WAILUKU - Two men arrested when police seized nearly 2 ounces of methamphetamine in a search of a Kahului apartment two years ago were sentenced Thursday to one-year jail terms for drug convictions.
Keanu Chung-Leong, 21, of Kula and Martin Tevaga, 27, of Wailuku also were placed on five years' probation.
Chung-Leong was the drug dealer, and Tevaga was paid with pills to be the "strong arm and protection" in the drug-selling operation, said Deputy Prosecutor Tracy Jones.
"He was dealing drugs for profit," she said during the sentencing hearing for Chung-Leong. "He was dealing ounce quantities."
Police obtained a search warrant for the unit at Kulanaa'o Apartments on Vevau Street after a police K9 dog was walked down a common hallway and alerted to the presence of drugs in the unit, according to court records.
Tevaga, his wife and children were living in the unit and had rented a room to Chung-Leong. When police entered the unit to execute the search warrant Nov. 5, 2012, Chung-Leong was seen throwing contraband out a back window, according to police.
Police reported recovering almost 2 ounces of methamphetamine, which was packaged for sale, a scale and other drug paraphernalia.
Originally charged with first-degree methamphetamine trafficking, Chung-Leong and Tevaga each pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and possessing drug paraphernalia. Their plea agreements with the prosecution recommended one-year jail terms as part of probation.
"This case is extraordinary on a couple of levels," said Chung-Leong's attorney, Chris Dunn. "One is how quickly an individual with no criminal history can get so fully involved - in substance abuse initially, and, as the state describes, A-level distribution.
"It's a cautionary tale for everybody in Mr. Chung-Leong's shoes. He's 21 years old and sees the allure of easy money and thinks it's no big deal."
Dunn said Chung-Leong was motivated by the goal "to save his mother from financial ruin and to provide mortgage payments for a house that's in foreclosure."
After his stepfather left the family, Chung-Leong took on the role of provider for the family, Dunn said. He said family members, including about a half-dozen people in the courtroom gallery, continued to support Chung-Leong.
Second Circuit Judge Peter Cahill said "there was no candy coating" in letters to the court from Chung-Leong's family. "The bottom line is he was dealing drugs," Cahill said. "He put a lot of people at risk here, including himself, including the Tevaga family."
Cahill said the plea deal, negotiated by Deputy Prosecutor Timothy Tate and the defense attorneys, was fair and saved the state the cost of a trial.
Cahill told both Chung-Leong and Tevaga they faced 10-year prison terms if they got into trouble again.
Both men had been released after posting bail shortly after being arrested on indictments last year. But the defendants were taken back into custody after they were recorded having a conversation in the courthouse parking lot.
The conversation occurred minutes after their arraignments in 2nd Circuit Court Aug. 6, when Cahill had ordered Chung-Leong and Tevaga to have no contact with each other.
Tevaga's attorney, Michael Green, disputed the allegation that Tevaga served as protection for the drug operation.
"He's no more strong arm or protection for the co-defendant than I was," Green said. "He works night and day."
Once released from jail, Tevaga can return to his jobs, including one as a fire-knife dancer, to help support his family including four children, Green said.
"What he should have done is probably not let the co-defendant live in the same house," Green said.
"This has been a very humbling experience," Tevaga said in court. "The paperwork shows that I have been through the system before, but this was something brand new for me. I'll take the good from this situation."
According to court records, Tevaga has convictions for three counts of second-degree robbery and kidnapping in a 2005 case on Oahu.
Cahill said Tevaga couldn't do anything about the fact that he is "an intimidating-looking person."
"I'm not sure there was any actual strong-arming. But with Martin, all you need to do is show up with him," Cahill said.
He said Tevaga should have listened to his wife, who was scared about what her husband was doing.
While the defendants may have thought they were getting "easy money," Cahill said "it really wasn't easy."
Jones said, "They may have viewed it as easy money for them, but what they were doing was causing and feeding the addiction of potentially hundreds of people in our community. Calling it easy money doesn't show the whole picture."
Both Tevaga and Chung-Leong have already served about eight months of their jail terms. Both were ordered not to consume alcohol or illegal drugs as part of their probation terms.
Tevaga also was ordered to participate in anger management classes and not to work as a bouncer.