WAILUKU - A Paia man is facing 15 years in prison after he pleaded guilty Wednesday to a firearms offense and a reduced charge of theft in connection with a murder-for-hire scheme.
The pleas by Ronald Bonilla Sr., 66, came nearly six years after a Lahaina man reported being handcuffed and forced into a vehicle in West Maui, then driven through Kahakuloa to Kahului, where he was beaten Nov. 9, 2006.
The victim was released after promising to pay $100,000 to Bonilla, who was identified as one of the assailants along with co-defendant Lawrence Verzosa.
Bonilla was arrested the next day when he showed up in Kapalua to collect the money from the victim, police said.
A police investigation showed that Lahaina resident Aniano Yabo had offered to pay $3,350 to Bonilla and Verzosa if they would beat and kill the victim, who was involved with Yabo's wife.
Bonilla had been charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder of the victim, including a reported second attempt a few months later when Bonilla sought assistance through contacts while in jail, police said.
In court Wednesday, Bonilla pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree theft. He also entered a conditional guilty plea to the charge of having a loaded firearm on a public highway, which carries a 10-year prison term.
Defense attorney Michael Green said Bonilla, who has been incarcerated since his arrest, has already served the five-year prison term for the theft charge.
His guilty plea to the firearms charge is conditional because Bonilla is appealing retired 2nd Circuit Judge Joel August's ruling denying a motion to suppress the traffic stop that led to Bonilla's arrest, Green said.
"If we're successful in opposing the motion to suppress, it's my belief he will be free to go," Green said.
In exchange for Bonilla's pleas to the two counts, the prosecution dismissed without prejudice the remaining counts including the two attempted murder charges, as well as charges of kidnapping and second-degree impersonating a law enforcement officer. Also dismissed without prejudice were firearms charges in another case involving guns and ammunition seized in a search of Bonilla's home on Nov. 16, 2006.
The charges dismissed without prejudice could be reinstated if a higher court reverses August's ruling, and Bonilla agreed in his plea that he would not oppose that action.
The defense and the prosecution agreed that Bonilla would serve the entire 15-year prison term, said Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani.
"The intent of the agreement was that Mr. Bonilla be incarcerated until he was 75," Tani said.
Bonilla is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 19.
Co-defendant Verzosa, 48, is awaiting sentencing on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. Yabo, 47, was sentenced in 2009 to a 20-year prison term after pleading no contest to conspiracy to commit murder.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.