- Associated Press - Thursday, October 27, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi told jurors during his felony theft trial that he used his government-issued credit card for personal purchases, but denied that he tried to steal public funds.

Kenoi took the stand Wednesday during the second week of his trial on charges of theft and making a false statement under oath.

“I’d never do anything to hurt this island, this county. I’m offended of being accused,” Kenoi said.

Prosecutors say Kenoi used the county card for personal expenses, including multiple alcohol purchases, and he only reimbursed the county after media outlets brought attention to the issue.

State officials reported that Kenoi charged nearly $130,000 on his county purchasing card, and records indicate he has since reimbursed about $32,000.

Kenoi defended many of the purchases in the indictment, including the ones related to alcohol. His defense team has argued that he purchased alcohol at various events to show his appreciation for people and build relationships to benefit the county.

“People gotta like you. People gotta want to help you. If people don’t want to help you, they aren’t going to help your community,” Kenoi testified.

Kenoi acknowledged using the card to buy his nephew a $293 hotel stay as a wedding present and not repaying the money until 250 days after the purchase. The mayor also said he signed a receipt for a $600 bill at a Washington, D.C., restaurant. The bill only included alcohol, prosecutors said.

The mayor appeared emotional and choked up as he testified about his humble upbringing in the town of Kalapana. He talked about the values instilled in him by his parents that helped shape who he is today.

“You spend your life helping people. You know how it feels growing up without much. People laugh, tease,” he said. “If I got an opportunity to help somebody make it better, that’s how you do. It’s Hawaii. It’s a small town. Everybody knows each other. That’s how that shaped me.”

Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday.

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