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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 17, 2010

After 7 years, fraud trial gets under way

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Lisa-Katharine Otsuka

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Rep. Beverly Harbin

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Two women who were once at the centers of different political controversies are now on opposite sides of a fraud trial that opened yesterday in Circuit Court.

On trial for forgery and theft offenses is Lisa-Katharine Otsuka; her alleged victim is former state Rep. Beverly Harbin.

In 2002, Otsuka refused to testify before a grand jury investigating the campaign finances of then-Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris.

Harbin was appointed to serve in the state Legislature in 2005 by Gov. Linda Lingle and then refused Lingle's calls to resign after reports that she owed back state taxes and had old misdemeanor criminal convictions for writing bad checks.

Harbin was turned out of office after she lost in the 2006 Democratic primary election.

Otsuka is on trial for allegedly stealing about $12,000 in 1999 from a Kaka'ako car repair business run by Harbin.

In his opening statement to jurors yesterday, Deputy Prosecutor Paul Mow said Harbin hired Otsuka as a bookkeeper and administrative aide at the auto shop, Hon Hawaii, in September 1999.

Harbin's regular bookkeeper was on maternity leave and Harbin was devastated by the death of her father when she hired Otsuka, Mow said.

Otsuka improperly wrote more than $12,000 in company checks to herself, during the 2 1/4 months that she worked for Harbin, Mow said.

"Lisa-Katharine Otsuka betrayed Bev Harbin," Mow said, adding that the evidence will show that she is guilty of eight counts of forgery and one count of theft.

Deputy Public Defender L. Grant Giventer told the jury that the case is a "contract dispute" that does not belong in criminal court.

"This whole case is a fabrication by Bev Harbin," Giventer said.

Otsuka was not hired by Harbin as a bookkeeper but as a management consultant to help straighten out the company's business practices, Giventer said.

The trial has been repeatedly delayed by legal complications and Otsuka's health problems.

Giventer is the sixth attorney to have represented Otsuka since she was first indicted in 2002.

Last year, Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario granted what he said would be the last delay in the case.

"For seven years we've been waiting to try the forgery and theft cases," the judge said. Another delay "would make a mockery of our legal system."