The Strange Case of Bob Awana
It reads like classic film noir— extortion threats, an FBI sting, extradition, a mysterious girl in the Philippines— except this one stars Governor Lingle's Chief of Staff
June 14, 2007
Here's a riddle for you: what do you get when you mix one top state official, a couple Asian nationals, some FBI agents, a few allegations of blackmail and prostitution, one sting operation and a really quiet extradition?
You get the makings of a really big scandal that should rock the state of Hawai'i.
First, the characters:
• Robert "Bob" Awana: Since 2003, he's been Governor Linda Lingle's Chief of Staff. He's generally considered one of the most powerful officials in the Lingle Administration.
• Rajadatta Patkar: An Indian citizen who was working in Japan until FBI agents arrested him in March and shipped him to the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu. According to his brother, he's a former vice president for Dell Japan who's lived in Japan for 20 years. And, he has degrees in electrical engineering from the India Institute of Technology and an MBA from the University of Texas.
• Jullie Mae: A resident of the Philippines and apparent friend of Patkar. But it's her relationship with Awana that lies at the heart of the issue.
The story goes a number of ways, depending on whom you ask. What no one disputes is that Patkar is today sitting in a Honolulu prison on charges of alleged blackmail. When the FBI agents arrested Patkar, they also searched his home and seized his computer. His trial is supposed to begin in August.
Back in April, a Hawai'i grand jury indicted Patkar on charges of "threatening to injure the property and reputation of" Bob Awana, who's referred to in the four-page April 27 indictment as "R.A." More specifically, the indictment says Patkar tried to extort $35,000 from Awana via "an e-mail communication originating outside the State of Hawaii." In an unusual move, the court sealed the indictment; then a month later, on May 23, the judge suddenly unsealed it.
"I was blackmailed by email," Awana said. "I went to Kubo, he notified the FBI, and I cooperated with their investigation."
The FBI then set up a sting operation in which they put up $4,000. With that money Awana bought a $4,000 credit card/gift card and sent it to Patkar in Japan.
Not long after the card was accessed, FBI agents grabbed Patkar in Tokyo and extradited him to the U.S. The judge granted a motion for him to be held without bail.
Patkar's brother, Charudatta, tells a somewhat different story. According to him, his brother is innocent and his friend "donated the gift card to a Hindu religious charity."
Charudatta said his brother is a highly educated professional with three advanced degrees who once served as the lead interpreter when the Indian Prime Minister visited Japan, and was most recently working on his own computer business.
According to Charudatta, Paktar had developed "a relationship" with Jullie Mae of the Philippines through the Internet, though they apparently never actually met. When Mae began complaining to Patkar about being bothered by a U.S. official, Patkar decided to help. Charudatta added that Awana had allegedly promised Mae a job and had sent her money.
But the job never materialized, and when Awana and other state officials visited the Philippines, Charudatta said Mae was expected to "entertain his delegates." When I asked if this included sexual entertainment, Charudatta said, "Yes."
Awana refused to comment for this story on either how he allegedly knew Mae or Charudatta's allegations. "I can't share any details about that," he said. But he did confirm that he has visited the Philippines within the last three years. Awana also denied that he had "sexually exploited" Mae in a June 11 KITV news report on the case, but refused to comment on why Patkar was allegedly blackmailing him.
When I asked for a copy of the emailed blackmail or letters from Jullie Mae, Awana declined, saying he'd "turned all of that over to the FBI."
Charudatta claimed that it was one of his brother's associates–a guy named "Michael"–who actually wrote to Awana demanding money, and that Patkar had no knowledge of it. "Michael" apparently fled Japan when the FBI arrested Patkar.
Patkar's family in New Delhi hired Nawal Kishore Jha, an attorney who later petitioned the Indian High Court as well as the Indian Supreme Court in an attempt to bring Patkar back to India to stand trial. "However, [the justices] rejected the petition on the reasoning that it cannot give any directions to the US administration," reported the Hindustan Times on May 29, 2007.
Patkar's case has been all over Indian newspapers since late May, but has received scant play here in Hawai'i, even though Patkar was arrested in a foreign country by Hawai'i-based FBI agents and has been in jail in Honolulu since March. In fact, that's how Maui Time found out about the story—on June 6 somebody anonymously emailed us a copy of a brief May 29 Calcutta Telegraph story on the case, referring to Awana as "a top US official."
Then three days later, on June 9—less than 24 hours after I emailed a copy of Patkar's indictment to Awana and requested comment—the Honolulu Advertiser ran a front-page story written by two reporters headlined, "Lingle's top aide helped FBI sting."
According to the article, which was based heavily on the indictment, Awana cooperated with the FBI to bring down a potentially dangerous, international e-blackmailer. But what's glaringly absent from the story is any explanation as to why Patkar was allegedly blackmailing Awana in the first place.
In any case, Patkar's trial begins late this summer. With this much salacious drama and international intrigue, it's likely the story will get a lot more local play. MTW
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