Posted on: June 9, 2022, 8:05 a.m.

Last update: June 9, 2022, 8:05 a.m.

Three Hawaiian men were recently apprehended on the Pacific island paradise for suspected illegal gambling and drug dealing. The two-year investigation involved 50 agents from the FBI or the Maui Police Department.

Three of four men charged with gambling or drug trafficking in Hawaii
Three of four men charged with gambling or drug trafficking in Hawaii, pictured above. Several illegal gambling sites have been discovered. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

During a search, authorities seized $68,000, 15 pounds of suspected methamphetamine (methamphetamine), seven firearms, 20 slot machines, gambling records, tablets and a money counter, said officials.

Game seals identified

Many illegal gambling halls have been discovered by authorities in Hawaii. Locations of illicit activity have been identified as: Sports Bar & Grill in Waianae, as well as sites at 980 and 977 Queens Street in Honolulu. Two snack bars, one in Lahaina and the other in Wailuku, have also been identified.

One of the sites reportedly used a gaming app. “You would enter, you would buy credits on the app… You could play there, you could take the app and play somewhere else, and make money,” said Kenneth Sorenson, head of the Hawaii U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Criminal Division. Quoted by Maui Nowan online news site.

Game seals worked 24 hours a day for over 30 days. They earned a gross income of at least $2,000 a day, authorities said.

The gambling business had the advantage of operating under the guise of being seemingly legitimate businesses,” Sorenson said. “In truth and in fact, the companies were fronts for illegal gambling sites that used sophisticated slot machines and gambling applications that facilitated off-site gambling.”

The firearms seized included two “ghost guns”. These are purchased online, assembled after purchase and cannot be traced.

Other firearms seized include: a loaded .25 caliber Beretta handgun, a 12 gauge Winchester shotgun and a 20 gauge Remington shotgun. also been recovered.

Maliu Tauheluhelu, 37, Maafu Pani, also 37, and Touanga Niu, 21, were each arrested on June 3 following the investigation. All three suspects appeared in federal court in Hawaii this week.

In an indictment, Tauheluhelu was charged with leading the criminal organization that distributed methamphetamine and cocaine and participating in illegal gambling.

Kenneth Sorenson, center, chief of the Hawaii U.S. Attorney's Office Criminal Division
Kenneth Sorenson, center, head of the Hawaii U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division, pictured above. He announced gambling and drug charges. (Image: Maui Now)

Pani also oversaw drug trafficking and illegal gambling on Maui, according to the indictment. He was described by authorities as “the chief lieutenant of Tauheluhelu”.

Niu allegedly helped transport drugs on flights from Oahu to Maui. They flew “on an airline for which there was no Transportation Security Administration [TSA] screening,” court documents said. The airline was later identified as Mokulele Airlines.

A fourth suspect, Desmond Morris, 38, was also named in the indictment. At the beginning of the week, he still had not been apprehended.

Many fees

Tauheluhelu is charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, conspiracy to operate an illegal gambling business, and conspiracy to launder drug proceeds.

Pani is charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and seven counts of distributing methamphetamine, and a single count each of possession of a firearm in connection with a criminal drug offence, conspiracy to operate an illegal gambling business, and conspiracy to launder drug proceeds.

Niu is charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

Morris will be charged with conspiracy with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

The defendants, if found guilty, could face many years or even decades of incarceration.