Attorney in Pay-to-Play Conspiracy Case Faces Murder-for-Hire Allegations in Honolulu Trial

HONOLULU, Hawaii – Sheri Tanaka, an attorney charged in a pay-to-play conspiracy case involving former Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, has appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathaniel M. Cousins. The U.S. Probation and Parole Office requested a review of Tanaka’s release, as a result of information provided by an informant alleging that Tanaka paid someone to kill U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat.

Despite these allegations, Tanaka has not been arrested or charged in connection with the murder-for-hire claim. She remains free as she awaits her trial in the conspiracy case, scheduled for March 12. During the hearing, Tanaka’s attorneys argued that she was the victim of an extortion scheme and denied hiring anyone to harm the federal judge and assistant U.S. Attorney.

After considering arguments from all parties, Judge Cousins determined that there was insufficient evidence to warrant any changes to the conditions of Tanaka’s pretrial supervision. Mark Mermelstein, one of Tanaka’s attorneys, stated that the government had failed to demonstrate that Tanaka posed a danger to anyone, emphasizing that she had actually been victimized by extortionists. The informant’s claim that Tanaka’s payment was related to the alleged murder plot, Mermelstein argued, was completely unfounded.

The investigation into the murder-for-hire plot began in December and resulted in a search warrant being executed at a Honolulu business on January 23. Tanaka’s electronic devices and other evidence were seized as part of the investigation. In addition to the murder-for-hire allegations, Tanaka, Kaneshiro, businessman Dennis Mitsunaga, and others are also being prosecuted for conspiring to frame a former Mitsunaga employee for theft after she filed a discrimination lawsuit against the company.

It is worth noting that Judge Seabright, who was originally presiding over the case, recused himself in January without providing an explanation. Neither Seabright nor Wheat, the prosecuting attorney, offered any comment in response to requests for statements from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Assistant U.S. Attorney Shauna Prewitt, from San Diego, also declined to comment.

During the court proceedings, Prewitt asked if any of the potential targets wished to address the court, but both declined. Tanaka’s defense attorney, Mermelstein, criticized Hawaii News Now for their reporting on the alleged murder plot, asserting that it “never happened.” He expressed concerns that such stories could negatively impact the jury pool and impede a fair trial for Tanaka. Mermelstein made it clear that Tanaka had no intention of harming Judge Seabright or any other judicial officer and was eager for the trial so that she could clear her name.

As Tanaka’s trial approaches in two weeks, the alleged murder-for-hire plot continues to be investigated. The defense maintains that it is a fabrication, while the prosecution has yet to comment on the ongoing investigation.