A joint operation between the FBI and Maui Police Department tore down a drug distribution and illegal gambling operation in Maui and Honolulu counties. Three men were arrested, while a fourth individual is still at large. The suspects are facing charges of drug trafficking, possession of illegal firearms, gambling, and money laundering.
The arrests marked the culmination of a two-year operation that included 50 officers. During several searches, the authorities seized $68,000 in cash,15 pounds of methamphetamine, seven guns, and more than 20 gaming machines. Officers also uncovered additional evidence of the illegal gambling operation, such as ledgers, tablets, and a money counter.
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier announced in a press conference that the authorities had pressed charges against four individuals: Maliu Tauheluhelu, 37; Maafu Pani, 37; Touanga Niu, 21; and Desmond Morris, 38. The men were arrested Friday, except for Morris, who is still at large.
According to a news release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Hawaii, Tauheluhelu was the leader of a drug ring that distributed methamphetamine and cocaine. The organization also managed an illegal gambling business with several locations in Honolulu, Lahaina, and Wailuku.
Pani served as Tauheluhelu’s right-hand man and oversaw the group’s criminal activities on Maui. Niu handled the transportation of drugs and the unlawful proceeds, and Morris was engaged in the distribution of illicit substances.
The Gambling Venture Utilized Sophisticated Technology
The collected evidence suggests that the group managed several illegal gambling locations. One of these reportedly even used a gambling app. Kenneth Sorenson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office said that the operation used legitimate businesses as a front. They contained gambling machines and distributed apps which allowed clients to use their services off-premises. The operation ran for over 30 days, and daily profits reportedly exceeded $2,000.
Sorenson stated that the investigation had not been easy. He noted that the criminal organization was highly secretive and hard to track. Members used burner phones that they regularly changed and traveled via a local airline that does not require TSA security checks. Among the confiscated weapons were two “ghost guns,” which are purchased in a disassembled state online and are impossible to trace.
Gang Members Can Face Up to a Life Sentence
John Pelletier, Chief of Police, thanked the officers involved in the investigation for their work and their continued efforts to make local communities safer. He noted that such operations were “a recipe for disaster within any community, and it will not be tolerated in ours or anywhere within the State of Hawaii.”
Tauheluhelu, Pani, and Niu can stand before the court as early as June 6, 2022. All defendants face serious charges and can receive sentences ranging from five years to life in prison if convicted.