Hawaii State Officials Get Fined for Flight Upgrades
The head of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and three former and current agency officials have been fined more than $12,000 for accepting flight upgrades.
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission yesterday found that CEO George Szigeti, COO Randy Baldemor; Jadie Goo, director of marketing for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia; and David Uchiyama, former vice president of brand management, solicited or accepted flight upgrades from Japan Airlines, China Airlines, Air China and China Southern Airlines while on trips for state business in 2015 and 2016, without informing the state that they did so. All four were fined a total of over $12,000.
By law, state officials must travel in coach for work trips. If they accept upgrades, they must disclose them and treat them as gifts. The upgrades were each valued at more than $200.
"State officials can't use their positions to get perks or benefits that aren't available generally to others," Daniel Gluck, executive director of the ethics commission, told Hawaii News Now. "The state can only pay for economy class, and that's how they're required to travel. If they have their own miles from their credit card, they can use that to upgrade themselves, but generally the state shouldn't be paying for those kinds of upgrades."
All the officials admitted accepting the upgrades. All but Szigeti said that they solicited or directed assistants to solicit upgrades. Szigeti said he accepted upgrades to business class from Japan Airlines on work trips to Japan, and in making its decision, the commission pointed out that Japan Airlines has $1 million in contracts with the tourism authority.
"We have put a policy in place strictly forbidding any courtesy travel upgrades when conducting business on behalf of the Hawaii Tourism Authority," Szigeti and the agency said in a statement issued Monday. "We regret that this happened and appreciate the clarification from the ethics commission that courtesy travel upgrades are not available to any state employee."
The commission levied the administrative fines to close out the investigation, and the fines aren't considered legal admissions or findings of guilt. The fines are being paid as settlement agreements with the state instead of via formal processes.