A well-known Hawaii business owner was sentenced Wednesday for his role in a gambling operation that netted hundreds of millions of dollars. But, a federal judge agreed the generosity of Thomas Ky is what may have gotten him in trouble.
Thomas Ky, who owns five Assaggio restaurants in Oahu, was also sentenced Wednesday to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine.
Ky's associates had difficulty understanding why he got into trouble.
"I don't know why he did it. I'm not even going to ask him why he did it," said George Castagnola, manager of Ala Moana Assaggio. The restaurant was originally founded by Ky.
Castagnola was one of many at federal court and watched his long-time friend, Ky, learn Ky's sentence.
Ky's family says the man is dealing with the situation.
In November 2013, Ky pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering and faced six years behind bars. Prosecutors asked for 1, but a federal judge dropped it to six months in prison and three years on probation.
In February, Ky paid back the $1.3 million he laundered thanks to shareholders footing the bill. Ky's attorney says it was a rare show of support.
"I think it's way too harsh for what Thomas did, and what Thomas does for the community," said Ky's attorney Steve Pingree.
Ky moved to the US in 1978 and then to Hawaii in 1984 before opening Assaggio in 1989. The Assaggio chain now has five stores. Each Ky eventually sold to friends and partners.
"He gave me chances when no one else would, and I'm sorry he got caught up in this and I know he is," said Castagnola.
Ky's attorney says it was some of Ky's friends and co-workers who were involved in an online sports gambling ring. Over eight years that ring managed some $700 million in transactions.
Prosecutors believe Ky didn't personally profit, but for several years took in the proceeds and spit back out hundreds of business checks and bonuses.
In court, Ky apologized to his family, friends and loyal customers. He said he still hopes to help others, but will now watch who he helps.
"Just one day at a time, just take it slowly," said Arivanh Chounramany, Ky's son.
"It hurts. Of course it hurts, but we're a family so we forgive and we move on," said Castagnola.
Ky's attorney says three others will be sentenced for illegal gambling in May.
In all, 27 people were convicted and most got probation. Ky is the only one to receive a notable mount of jail time.
Prosecutors and Ky's defense lawyers spent more than an hour haggling over the terms of the man's sentence.
Ky admitted to his role in the larger gambling operation that included head bookie Felix Gee Won Tom.