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Global defense firm founder on leave due to probe

A pile of money. (Government Accountability Office)

The founder of global government contractor Hawaiian Native Corp. and its 11 DAWSON subsidiaries placed himself on administrative leave pending the outcome of a federal investigation into potential financial and tax crimes.

The founder of global government contractor Hawaiian Native Corp. and its 11 DAWSON subsidiaries placed himself on administrative leave pending the outcome of a federal investigation into potential financial and tax crimes.

Christopher Mailani Dawson, 60, HNC board chairman and DAWSON chief executive officer, elected to take administrative leave “because he felt that was best for the company, ” HNC Executive Director Steve Li told the Honolulu Star-­Advertiser.

Dawson has retained legal counsel and declined Star-Advertiser requests for an interview.

“It was (Dawson’s ) decision to relinquish all operating, management, and decision-making responsibilities relating to the HNC and the DAWSON operating companies to avoid being a potential distraction to the DAWSON operating companies during the investigation, ” Li said. “We appreciate that he is looking after the interests of our (Department of Defense ) clients and others in our community such as the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Iolani Palace, Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission, and other organizations, whose missions align with ours to perpetuate our Hawaiian culture and elevate the Lahui.”

Allen Hoe will serve as HNC board chairman, David Johnson has taken over as chief executive officer of the DAWSON operating companies and Andy Winer, the Washington, D.C.-based executive vice president of Strategies 360, will join the HNC board, Li said.

“We have assured our partners that the investigation does not allege and is not investigating any irregularities in the DAWSON operating companies, ” Johnson said.

DAWSON executives declined to discuss details about who has been questioned by federal investigators and what kind of evidence was seized during a June 27 search of the DAWSON office at 900 Fort Street Mall.

In addition to founding HNC and the DAWSON companies, Christopher Dawson, “a Native Hawaiian social entrepreneur dedicated to creating wide-scale economic and cultural impact, ” is founder of Hawaii Polo Life and the Hawaii International Polo Association, according to his website.

Dawson is “an internationally accomplished polo player and a leader in his sport, ” according to the company website. Dawson is dedicated to supporting the Native Hawaiian community through “philanthropy, his business enterprises, and his work to teach Hawaiian history and culture through the lens of polo.”

The investigation, being run by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Internal Revenue Service, comes while the large government contractor continues its decades-long business relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense.

HNC has been in business for 29 years and employs 1, 200 people across 18 offices in 47 states and 20 countries.

The investigation has not affected DAWSON’s operations or existing contracts, Johnson told the Star-­Advertiser.

“We continue to provide world-class service without interruption to our clients worldwide, just as we have for the past 30 years. The federal investigation now underway does not impact any of the DAWSON operating companies. We are able to fulfill our contractual obligations to our existing DOD contracts, ” he said.

Transparency is important to the company, he said, and “we have fully disclosed as much as we know to our DOD clients as well as several Native Hawaiian community programs and services we support. We felt it was important for them to know that federal representatives executed a search warrant of our Hawaii office. We recognize that some have characterized this as a ‘raid, ‘ but the federal investigators were respectful and our staff fully cooperated.”

Others in the Native Hawaiian community have reached out with support for Dawson and have the “same questions we have about the investigation.”

“We don ʻt have many answers to these questions at this point, but we are hopeful that this investigation will be resolved quickly. We will continue to do what we always have done as we cooperate with the investigation, ” Johnson said.

Red Hill work DAWSON recently was awarded a $2.13 million sole-sourced contract to provide fire suppression system maintenance at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility for a six-month period of performance that started July 1.

A Navy spokesperson told the Star-Advertiser in a statement that Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Hawaii learned about the DCIS and IRS investigation on June 30, the day before the contract was awarded.

“NAVFAC Hawaii proceeded with the contract award in accordance with federal procurement procedures, including confirmation that the contractor was not disbarred or suspended prior to award in the System for Award Management under the Excluded Parties List System, ” according to the Navy spokesperson.

The award of the fire suppression system maintenance and repair services contract to DAWSON was an 8 (a ) sole-source contract that was authorized under the Federal Acquisition Regulation 6.302-5 (b )(4 ) Sole Source awards under the 8 (a ) Program. DAWSON, a Native Hawaiian organization-­owned small business, “was approached before the expiration of the previous contract with Kinetix.”

Kinetix, a military contractor responsible for the maintenance of Red Hill’s fire suppression system, incorrectly installed an air vacuum valve in April 2022, according to a Navy report. The contractor then failed to disable the aqueous film-forming foam pumps from automatically starting before testing the system on Nov. 29, leading to an uncontrolled release of the fire suppressant, which video shows quickly flowed underneath a tunnel door to the outside.

DAWSON has had a number of contracts involving preventive maintenance and repair services on fuel tanks, pipelines, distribution systems and fire alarm and suppression systems work at Red Hill, Johnson told the Star-Advertiser.

“The work performed by DAWSON has no connection to the contamination incident at Red Hill. In fact, we have been entrusted to execute critically important remediation initiatives to protect the health and well-being of the community, ” he said. “One of DAWSON’S most recent Red Hill projects was the emergency response to address drinking water contamination due to the fuel spill at Red Hill.”

DAWSON upgraded the water distribution infrastructure, sanitized the drinking water storage tanks and facilitated the installation of a water treatment system at the distribution point of the Aliamanu Military Reservation drinking water system, Johnson said.

The Navy approached DAWSON for the most recent Red Hill work because of its “track record of completing projects at Red Hill and other projects in Hawaii with similar scopes of work.”

The fire suppression contract was initially solicited as a competitive bid, and DAWSON responded with a proposal in April, Johnson said.

The Navy subsequently canceled that original solicitation in mid-May, and the Navy reached out to DAWSON to negotiate the scope and cost.

In addition to the federal government’s pre-award survey, the U.S. Small Business Administration does its own due diligence in the “acceptance of direct awards.”

“We were sent a formal RFP in late May, after receiving acceptance and agreement from the SBA that DAWSON was fully capable of performing the scope of work, ” Johnson said.

After that, DAWSON submitted its proposal for the directed work on June 20, the contract was negotiated, and then awarded June 30.

DAWSON has worked on other fueling systems and employs a staff of “very experienced Department of Defense fueling system experts ” with the ability to repair and maintain fuel tanks, pipelines, distribution systems and fire alarm and suppression systems worldwide, he said.

The DAWSON fuels team is “routinely sought out ” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and NAVFAC to support the most critical and challenging fuel system repair and maintenance projects in the DOD. The pipeline work at Red Hill “is an example of our work with DOD fueling systems and highlights the trusted relationships with clients ” that DAWSON has built “based on successful, on-time, and on-budget project execution.”

In addition to Red Hill, some of DAWSON’S other Hawaii fuel projects have included work on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai and the Army.

The DAWSON companies are subsidiaries of Hawaiian Native Corp., “a Native Hawaiian Organization federally certified by the U.S. Small Business Administration since 2004, ” according to the website. Core services include professional and technical services, construction, operations and maintenance, and environmental services.

It is part of the SBA’s 8 (a ) business development program, which was created to provide support to small, disadvantaged businesses, “particularly with gaining access to the federal marketplace, ” according to the Native Hawaiian Organizations Association.

Small businesses owned by Native entities such as NHOs, tribes and Alaska Native corporations are authorized to participate in the SBA 8 (a ) program under special rules.

While the rules differ depending on the Native entity, the ultimate intent of the Native 8 (a ) program is to provide Native communities with the ability to develop self-sufficient economic ventures that support their communities, according to NHOA.


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