He’s hustled legislators, a county prosecutor, the Ethics Commission, the BLNR, his bosses and the public . . . DoBOR’s Ed Underwood might just be Hawaii’s slickest con man ever

An Avalanche of Headlines Tell the Story

Is Hawaii's inner-circle governance incapable of policing itself?

~This edition of Hawaii Ocean News is dedicated to the memory of journalist, Les Parsons, a tireless, selfless advocate for the rights of Hawaii's ocean recreation community and among the first to sound the alarm about, and alert the public to the danger of a State of Hawaii division run by Ed Underwood~

It can be frightening if your community is being threatened and manipulated  by a con man, and particularly frightening when the con man has the force of governance behind him -- a con man who has so skillfully played the system that the very people who are charged with oversight of the leadership of your community are turning a blind eye.

This is exactly the predicament in which Hawaii's recreational boating public finds itself -- running scared now because this very same con man is at the center of a scheme that would privatize public harbor lands, submerged and surrounding dry properties, throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Doubtless there's something in it for him, a little wink-nod something that will make all the blowback worthwhile.  And with the legislature and DLNR Chair in his back pocket he could actually pull this off, despite the outcries from the community, despite the implications of privatizing public lands, despite the fact that everyone knows what's going on, and how big money is controlling the hand puppets. 

DOBOR administrator Ed Underwood might just be one of the most prolific con men in the Hawaiian Islands, and here's why:


We'd been hearing rumors for years about how Underwood and his DoBOR have been involved in selective enforcement and favoritism, retaliation against those who would oppose him, dealings with contractors that had the strong scent of conflict-of-interest insider trading, repeated lying to both the public and public officials, and repeated bungling that cost the Boating Special Fund hundreds of thousands of dollars -- some say millions of dollars -- over the past decade. 

And then there were the rumors about Underwood’s connection to certain commercial tourist operations in the harbor system; his connections to Howard Hughs Corp and Hilton Hawaiian Corp -– the two primary would-be private bidders for public recreational harbors; his connections to the contractors who are ultimately chosen to do work for the public harbor system and who all to often bungle, costing boaters (and taxpayers) hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost public funds; and then those way-too-cozy connections to key individuals within Hawaii’s governing circle who can help him advance his personal agenda.

Rumors being what they are, we couldn't know for sure how true any of this really was.  The only red flag seemed to be the persistence and voracity of the complaints; they never went away, for years, and it was clear that a lot of people in the public were angry.


And then came the article in Big Island News about Hawaii County Prosecutor, Mitch Roth's riveting allegations against Ed Underwood.  Quoting from the February 26, 2017 Big Island News article:

“I get a lot of complaints about law enforcement and I look into all these complaints and most of times there’s a reasonable explanation and law enforcement is doing what they’re supposed to do,” Roth said. But this was different.

[The whistleblower] told Roth to “talk to some people at DLNR because there was retaliation being done in this case. So I started following up and found out from employees at DLNR that – yes – there is retaliation, and they wouldn’t be surprised if the retaliation was coming from the DOBOR office.”

“I started looking into other things [that were] going on with DOBOR and quite frankly, I haven’t been able to find anybody to tell me anything good about DOBOR,” Roth said. “A lot of people telling me about retaliation. People who were afraid to talk to me because they were afraid they’re going to be retaliated against. As I looked into this, I sent a request to the Attorney General as well as to (Chair Suzanne) Case of the DLNR, asking that an investigation be done. I told chair Case in one of the emails that we had heard that – even from DLNR employees – that they believe that there’s retaliation and other things going on.”

Roth says Chair Case responded in an email asking for the names of the employees who spoke to Roth, and Roth said “I just could not give those people. You don’t give out whistleblowers.”

Roth said his office declined to investigate the situation, initially, but he did ask DLNR to go back and investigate further. That’s when [the whistleblower] [was audited], Roth says. “When we called to find out what was going on,” roth said, “we were told it was a random audit for permit fees. As I kept on looking into what was going on with this gentleman, I found out that he had made some complaints to DLNR and DOCARE, and DOBOR, as well as various politicians – who also confirmed issues of retaliation and dishonesty on behalf of DOBOR – and so as I looked into this, I was finding more and more things. [The whistleblower] gets [audited]. And I thought ‘wow’ that’s just a little bit too coincidental.”

Roth continued. “Looking into some other documents, I found out that [the whistleblower] had a case that went to the State Ombudsman. The State Ombudsman found in his favor. And [DOBOR] still continue[d] to do things that just seemed retaliatory, and there’s too many coincidences in a row.”

“[Underwood's DOBOR] eventually took [the whistleblower's] permit away . . .  ." 

Underwood's response to Roth's investigation and allegations was, you guessed it, retaliation.  Filing a contrived ethics complaint against the county prosecutor, Underwood hoped to send Roth and anyone else who sought to get in his way a message.  The Ethics Commission swatted the complaint away like a sick fly at a boy scout latrine, but Underwood had achieved his goal: the investigation mostly went away -- slick . . . very slick.  (You can read the entire story here at Big Island News, here at West Hawaii News, and a follow-up story here at Big Island News.)

After reading about this incident, Hawaii Ocean News staff voted unanimously to begin investigating and documenting Underwood's activities.  Over the years, we've acquired a mountain of evidence. Rather than bore the reader with this avalanche of information, we've provided links below that point to articles about Underwood and his DoBOR activities.  Under the link/article headlines there is a brief summary of what the story or stories is/are about.


Hawaii County prosecutor: Corruption rampant at state's boating division

Years-long investigation into allegations of corruption at Boating Division drags on

The above are Hawaii News Now  stories about the Roth corruption allegations.  Notice how Hawaii's inner-circle personalities drag out investigations about misconduct among their own. Hawaii's government seems incapable of policing it's own behavior.


VIDEO: Corruption Alleged In Hawaii Boating Division

VIDEO: Ethics Board Member Slams DoBOR Admin

These are stories from Big Island News about the Roth corruption allegations.


DoBOR’s Underwood Called on Lying to Rep. David Tarnas

This is a Hawaii Ocean News story about the perjury incident involving Underwood and Rep. David Tarnas.

When Representative David Tarnas acknowledged that DoBOR Administrator, Ed Underwood had lied to him and other legislators during a legislative testimony, we thought that there would be objections and a call from legislators and DLNR Chair, Suzanne Case for Underwood’s dismissal.

But nothing happened. Time passed . . . and still nothing happened. No one said a word about it, except for Representative Tarnas. Suzanne Case acted as though nothing had happened, and legislators (all of whom were aware of the incident) pretended that they were otherwise occupied when it happened. The governor, who was aware of it, said nothing. Josh Green, who moonlights as Lt. Governor, was silent. Our Attorney General, Clare Connors, who knew full well about the exchange, appeared almost comatose with apathy . . . and responded with a resounding silence.

We documented the incident here for our readers. How is it that DLNR leadership can perjure themselves to our State’s legislators during a legislative testimony, get caught, and then walk away without so much as having to worry about a reprimand? Why isn’t Hawaii’s leadership being held accountable for what they say and do? Is Hawaii’s government inner circle incapable of policing itself? If so, is it time for more federal oversight?


Hawaii Boaters at Packed Public Hearing Vent Outrage Over Boating System Mismanagement . . . A Packed Public Meeting and No One to Talk To . . . Underwood Playing Golf

This article has to do with the Statewide hearing on March 2, 2019 about the proposed rules package change that would more than instantly double public mooring rates for some boaters.  There were hundreds of written testimonies taken and more than 20 continuous hours of oral testimony, all of which, unanimously, condemned the management practices of Ed Underwood's DoBOR.  How is it that so many public boaters can sound the alarm about Ed Underwood, and there not be so much as a whisper heard among legislators, the attorney general, the governor, the BLNR, the DLNR Chair, Suzanne Case, or any of the other oversight that should be in place in Hawaii's government to prevent this kind of malfeasance? This is clearly not a government of, by, and for the people of Hawaii.  This is, instead, a government that caters to the pet whim and agenda of those in power.


“Gateway to Waikiki” Now a Homeless Shelter

Welcome to the ‘Gateway to Waikiki’!

Hawaii Drowning in Incompetence

These three above Hawaii Ocean News stories deal with DoBOR's Navatec II corruption incident, with Underwood at the center and refusing to comment further.


Auditor Condemns DLNR’s Fiscal Management [Underwood Says Everything's Just Fine]

This is a Hawaii Ocean News story about how independent auditors reacted to the DLNR's/DoBOR's fiscal management of the state's public harbor system; despite the findings of the independent audio, Underwood appears to be strangely disoriented, claiming that all is well on DoBOR ledgers.


Whatever Happened to … DOBOR's Lease of Land at Ma'alaea? [Barely 3 years into his tenure, Underwood already trying to snow journalists]

An article posted by Environment Hawaii about the Ma'laea incident.  This story should serve as a warning to every property owner in Hawaii!

From the story:     . . .  "according to Ed Underwood, administrator of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. The Coast Guard, which has a presence at Ma`alaea, might be interested in using the property, he said. 'We’re working with Williams right now,' he added, referring to the lot’s owner, Don Williams, a commercial real estate broker who paid $1.35 million for it just days before entering into the lease with the state. 'Things will be happening pretty quickly now.'

When this happened, Underwood had been in his new position as DoBOR administrator for less than three years, and he was already BSing the public: "Things will be happening pretty quickly now."  Actually, nothing happened and the land owner eventually went from being lessor to victim of an eminent-domain style grab of his property.  See Civil Beat's article about the incident here: Is This Maui Landowner Getting A Raw Deal From The State?


Legislators See Through DoBOR’s Fee Increase Ruse, Defer SB1257 indefinitely

We Asked Ed Underwood How DOBOR Came Up With Fee Increase Numbers  [the answers bordered on bizarre . . .  ]

The above two Hawaii Ocean News articles dealt with the core issue of an illegal 13-234 rules package that was shoved down the throats of public boaters back in 2019.  Underwood was a primary architect of the package that was eventually approved by Suzanne Case's BLNR, despite a ground swell of unanimous objections from the public, skepticism by the legislature, and an eerie silence from the Attorney General's office.  This might be a picture-perfect illustration of how the government of Hawaii has nothing whatsoever to do with being "of, by," or "for the people of Hawaii"


Hawaii DoBOR’s Ed Underwood Appears Dangerously Incompetent

This is a story by Hawaii Ocean News staff.


Hawaii’s DLNR/DOBOR may be intentionally mismanaging the state’s public harbor system

[Underwood wants to off-load the public's harbor system into big-money private interest hands]

This is a Hawaii Ocean News red-flag story about how the DLNR  and especially Underwood's DoBOR is intentionally mismanaging the State's public harbor system so as to encourage legislation that would allow for the privatization of all public boating harbors in the State of Hawaii.


Underwood’s DoBOR Attempts to Manipulate Legislators in Audit Subterfuge –  Underwood May Be Toying with our State Legislature

In this Hawaii Ocean News story, Underwood attempts to reinvent DoBOR's ledger for State legislators.


DoBOR policies encouraging the spread of Covid-19 in our community [Underwood silent]

Case’s DLNR, Underwood’s DoBOR unapologetic about it’s breach of governor’s pandemic law

A Hawaii Ocean News investigation found the DLNR and especially Underwood's DoBOR negligent in its response to the governor's pandemic orders, creating a nightmare scenario for boaters needing to visit harbor offices around the State.  Underwood did not respond to our inquiries.


DoBOR Forced to Shift Tactics in Wake of HON Investigation

To say that DoBOR has a reputation for being user unfriendly is a primer in understatement.  In the past, a boater was required to "discover", by some magic clairvoyance, critical new rules, drastically increased rates, and generally, important changes in public boating infrastructure.  When we asked why DoBOR refused to be more open with the public, we received several interesting excuses.  The above is a Hawaii Ocean News article about how a State agency could be so arrogant as to feel it doesn't need to talk to you.



  • Underwood's bungled handling of the Diamond Parking fiasco at the AWSBH
  • Underwood's contractor two-step: the 800 row debacle at the AWSBH
  • The bungled RFPs . . . Underwood and Suzanne Case
  • Underwood's (and Suzanne Case's) enabling of the slightly illegal habit of free-wheeling on-the-fly rule changing
  • Unexplained resources that funded a massive new DoBOR complex and new DoBOR vehicle fleet (Underwood: "we're broke" . . . really?)


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3 years ago

This is simply a case of the wrong person for the job. Why is it so hard to get rid of incompetent people at the DLNR?

Ken A.
Ken A.
3 years ago

Underwood has been a problem for boaters for years!

3 years ago

The governor should step in.