Kauai prosecutors crack down on rock thefts

Former lawmaker headed to court over felony charge

Published  10:51 PM HST Mar 06, 2013
HONOLULU -

A former Kauai politician will head to court Thursday to answer charges of disturbing and damaging a historic Native Hawaiian site.

Meanwhile, Garden Isle prosecutors are cracking down on the thefts of sacred stones.

"The Hawaiians tapped the water coming from the mountains and built a 100-mile irrigation system to irrigate the pockets of dirt within this rock outcropping," said Koloa resident Ted Blake.

Kauai's heiau and other ancient Hawaiian sites are a source of pride for Blake, "We have such an archeological treasure trove of sites here, and finally it's being re-discovered by people."

Blake has seen a number of the sacred sites restored, but he's also seen others damaged when people come to the rock-strewn landscapes for more than just a look at Hawaii's past.

"For people building stone walls, they come and help themselves to rock here. All of the rocks they are taking down are archeological sites they are taking down," said Blake.

Former state Rep. Roland Sagum III and Lealiki Koli are accused of doing just that, taking rocks and damaging a cultural preserve on Kauai's south side, near a popular heiau.

While there haven't been many arrested recently, it is a crime Kauai's prosecutor said his office takes seriously.

"The cultural and historic resources of our islands are something we want to preserve for future generations," said Kauai Prosecutor Justin Kollar.

Sagum and Koli are accused of taking truck loads of the rock during the summer of 2011. The rocks were on land owned by Kukui'ula Development Corporation. The pair reportedly used those rocks for a wall that was built on Sagum's property.

Sagum's attorney said that was not the case and wants to prove it in court.

"We believe the charge against Roland is based on misunderstanding of the facts. Once all the information is turned over, we will likely file for a dismissal for Sagum," said his attorney Craig De Costa.

Kollar said these types of criminal case can sometimes be hard to prosecute because it may be difficult to identify exactly where the sacred stones were originally located.
This time though, Kollar said the case is rock-solid because there are eyewitness reports. Which, he added, was the key to keeping other sacred sites intact in the future.

"People may see things that are being desecrated, or improper things going on. For us to find out about it, someone has to speak up and say something," said Kollar.

No court date has been set for Koli.  Both men face second degree theft charges, which are considered felonies.

In addition to this latest criminal case, there are other rock theft investigations going on.

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