They went down fighting to the very end. And while nobody will question the tenacity of Gary Rodrigues and his daughter, Robin Rodrigues Sabatini, a good many might question their soundness of judgment and even mental well-being. This past February, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it had declined to hear their appeal. Rodrigues, former longtime Hawaii state director of the United Public Workers, had been convicted in November 2002 by a Honolulu jury on dozens of criminal charges, including mail fraud, conspiracy, money-laundering and embezzlement in connection with the theft of about $380,000 in union funds. Free on bail, he began serving a five-year prison sentence this past January. His daughter, convicted on dozens of charges herself and sentenced to 46 months in prison, had laundered much of the money through her “consulting” operations. It was an outcome neither could accept.
If Rodrigues and Sabatini didn’t exhaust the treasury of the 12,000-member union, an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), they came close to exhausting the patience of the judicial system. Their convictions seemed open and shut; their lawyers didn’t even call any witnesses to the stand. In 2003, U.S. District Judge David Ezra ordered Rodrigues to spend 64 months in prison (a term later lowered to 60 months) and ordered him to pay restitution and fines. A federal appeals court in Hawaii, belatedly, last June upheld the convictions. In August, the court rejected a further request by the pair for a panel of 15 judges to rehear their appeal. Two months later, Judge Ezra rejected yet another request, this one to reduce Rodrigues’ prison term to 33 months. The case, he wrote, “was overwhelming and sufficient to find beyond a reasonable doubt that (Rodrigues) engaged in abusing a position of trust, obstructed justice and laundered…money.” But Rodrigues and Sabatini still had some artillery left. Enlisting San Francisco defense attorney Doron Weinberg, the pair filed a certiorari petition with the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds that their constitutional rights had been violated. With that option now exhausted, it might be time to face the music.
Federal prosecutors had acknowledged that when Rodrigues took control of the United Public Workers union in 1981, he had “the best interests of the union and its members as his priority,” building the union into “a large, politically significant” entity. But somewhere along the line he “became greedy, autocratic, vindictive and tyrannical” and “clearly abused a position of trust.” The jury that convicted him more than five years ago got a first-hand display of his disposition right after the verdict. Rodrigues initially reacted by pointing at prosecutors and exclaiming, “Get a good look at their faces, remember their faces.” He then grabbed a microphone from a reporter’s hand and smashed it to the ground. The criminal justice system never did get through to him. Perhaps therapy will. (Honolulu Advocate, 2/28/08).