In The Kona Kai Coffee Scandal
by Les Drent
Former Kona Coffee Supplier Gets Jail Time, New
Assurances Of Kona Coffee Purity Implemented
In Oakland this past March, U.S. District Judge D.
Lowell Jensen sentenced Michael Norton, 53, owner of
the now defunct Kona Kai Coffee, to 30 months in prison
as a result of his pleading guilty to wire fraud and
tax evasion. Norton purchased 3.6 million pounds of
cheaper, lower grade Central American coffee from 1993
to 1996; rebagged it as "Pure Kona Coffee";
and netted nearly $15 million dollars from his illegal
scheme. Besides jail time Norton was ordered to pay
$475,000 in restitution and $440,000 in delinquent taxes
for diverting $1.3 million to a Swiss bank account.
The damages Norton inflicted on the local Kona coffee
industry were catastrophic. Hard working and honest
farmers, producers and sellers of 100% Kona coffee were
cheated out of legitimate sales during these years and
the reputation of 100% Kona coffee was greatly tarnished.
While Norton was surrounded by family and friends outside
of the courthouse he laughed and said, "I can't
see how it would be possible to make a comment that
would be in my interest."
His lawyer, Penny Cooper of Emeryville, California
said no one was victimized by the scheme and at worst
coffee aficionados just got a different cup of joe.
It is now mandatory that all green coffee leaving Hawaii
must be State of Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture certified.
This certification program tests for size, color, moisture
content and includes a cupping test for aroma and flavor.
This "Officialy Sampled" program assures green
coffee purchasers that what they are buying is 100%
Kona and meets grading standards. Currently no authenticity
program exists for roasted Kona coffee so it is still
While the true taste and aroma of Kona coffee are unmistakable
it's still the best policy to know personally who you
are buying your Kona coffee from. Don't be afraid to
ask questions... the Kona coffee industry is comprised
mostly of small family run operations who are eager
to give advice and cater to your every need. It is a
pride filled industry!
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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