Questions swirl over whether wildfire relief aid will pay tab for Maui mayor’s enhanced security

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen’s enhanced security detail cost approximately $115,000 for a six-week period after the devastating wildfires and, HNN Investigates has learned, federal relief aid designated for victims could be used to pay for the protection.

State investigators instead of Maui County police officers provided the law enforcement officers.

HNN Investigates has copies of receipts for plane tickets, hotel accommodations, rental cars, fuel and food plus worksheets that show the cost for overtime.

The four state investigators from the Attorney General’s Office and the Public Safety Department’s Sheriff’s Division were sent from Oahu to Maui between Aug. 23 and Oct. 6 of last year.

The detail started days after a blogger from Louisiana had to be held back by officers with the Maui Police Department who were protecting Bissen following a media briefing on Aug. 18.

Blogger restrained after confronting Maui Mayor about wildfire victims(Kawano, Lynn | None)

MPD told HNN that the department was not asked for additional resources to guard Bissen.

Camron Hurt, of Common Cause Hawaii, questioned the state spending.

“He had jurisdiction over his own police if he needed protection,” said Hurt.

Instead, a spokesperson for the county said, the state Public Safety Department made a verbal offer to provide an additional security detail — bypassing official paperwork.

The state Attorney General’s Office told HNN that the assignment for their two investigators cost a total of $54,881.06 for overtime, which amounted to $17,504.28 and $37,376.78 in travel expenses.

The state Public Safety Department spent more on the assignment for their two sheriff’s division investigators — $60,833.69 total.

That’s the result of $14,963.13 in overtime and $45,870.56 in travel expenses.

Combined, the state is asking for $115,711.75 from FEMA as part of the wildfire response.

Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii, said it appeared Bissen needed extra security during that time period. But Moore questioned the use of state investigators.

“Why couldn’t MPD provide that security?” Moore said.

The total for the detail is small compared to FEMA’s complete wildfire response, but that money is earmarked for victims and Hurt said it could have helped a family with housing instead.

Because no official request was made in writing for the investigators, FEMA does not have to reimburse the state.

HNN did reach out to FEMA to see if the money will be reimbursed and not yet heard back.

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