Important Special Announcement: Keith interviewed in PBS Frontline’s award-winning The Choice 2012:
On October 9, 2012, acclaimed FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk (Money, Power and Wall Street, Top Secret America) presents The Choice 2012. This two-hour long documentary journeys into the places, people, and decisive moments that made the men who are competing for the presidency. Hundreds of hours of research and dozens of original interviews reveal new details and fresh insights about the two candidates — and our choice this November.
Click here now to watch the 2-minute trailer:
Check PBS Frontline for broadcast schedule in your area:
The closest childhood friend of Obama
Childhood friend of President Barack Obama ... close friends with
AOL founder Steve Case ... as well as sports superstars quarterback Joe Montana,
wide receiver Jerry Rice, running back Roger Craig,
tight end Russ Francis, tight end Kellen Winslow,
defensive back Ronnie Lott,
running back Eric Dickerson
olympic Gold Medalist Edwin Moses,
hurdler and wide receiver Renaldo Nehemiah ...
hurdler and wide receiver Willie Gault ...
former Wall Street trader of a $3 billion commodity fund ...
... and much, MUCH MORE!
He's appeared on or in or been interviewed by:
- On The front page of the Wall Street Journal
- The New York Times
- ABC's Good Morning America
- ABC's Night Line
- CNN's Anderson Cooper 360
- Rolling Stone
- Major German magazine Stern
- And many, many more!
I'm going to share an incredibly fascinating story with you. A story that will have you on the edge of your seat leaning forward so you don't miss a single word. A story you can also gain tremendous benefit from. A story when done will have you sitting back as your head spins and all you can mutter is, "Wow!"
It's a story involving the world's most powerful person.
One of the world's richest people.
Many of the world's most accomplished and recognized athletes.
And many more stellar figures.
My friend Bill Henthorn is much better at telling stories than I am, so let me have him take over:
It's a story about a man who'd make fortunes for himself and others. Fortunes that are easily a rich "I'll never have to work again" lottery payoff for you or me.
Keith Kakugawa had it all: fame, stunningly beautiful women, fast cars, growing stacks of thick bundles of cash, luxurious travel to exotic places, friendships with the rich and famous, and so much more ...
Then one day, out of the blue, a small event took place that brought all that to a screeching, ear-piercing halt, cascading from a tiny, harmless snowball into a tragically devastating avalanche that buried Keith alive in an icy tomb of constant, gripping terror:
FROM putting together multibillion corporate mergers on Wall Street
TO befriending notorious Mexican street gangs while living under a bridge like a troll on Skid Row ...
FROM trading a $300 million Swiss franc currency fund
TO trading crack cocaine for food stamps ...
FROM being highly respected for making money for his wealthy clients
TO being hotly chased by the Securities Exchange Commission and quietly tracked by the FBI for money laundering and wire fraud ...
Yet today, Keith is rising out that icy tomb even as you read these very words.
But let's start at the beginning:
"I was born a small, white dog in Kansas. How I became a Black man living in the white man's world, I'll never know.
Just kidding ..."
Once upon a time ...
Imagine long ago, an ancient time in an ancient land when there was no YouTube. No Facebook. No email. Not even an internet. Or cell phones. Or PC or Mac computers.
In that ancient land of the 1960s and 1970s, Keith's mother was a professor at UCLA.
As a child, Keith used to meet and talk with most of the late '60s UCLA basketball stars. When he was about 9 years old, Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) came over to his house with his girlfriend, Keith's babysitter.
His dad's work life wasn't nearly as interesting: more of a "Mr. Cleaver" sort of role-model.
He lived in a middle-class professional neighborhood.
As a teacher at UCLA and a Black woman, Keith's mom was friends with the people that would later make up activist civil rights groups like the Black Panthers, an African-American revolutionary leftist organization whose leaders espoused socialist and communist doctrine.
As fate would have it:
Going to Hawaii becomes
a move in the right direction
Then he moved with his family to Hawaii when he was 10 years old. Fateful move, as you'll see:
At age 13, Keith went off to Punahou School in Honolulu. It's the K-through-12 private college preparatory school where Hawaii's elite have been sending their children since 1841.
And it has produced some amazing people. Such as AOL founder Steve Case. eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. And more, as you'll see shortly.
Clearly, Keith didn't rise to the same billionaire, household-name levels as they did.
Fate delivers a gift:
But he did excel in athletics. And fatefully, that sports gift laid the foundation for later meeting and befriending a wealth of sports superstars in football and basketball. Friendships that continue this very day. Like who? Here are just a few from track & field and football:
Hurdler and wide receiver Renaldo Nehemiah ...
Hurdler and wide receiver Willie Gault ...
Olympic Gold Medalist Edwin Moses ...
Running back Eric Dickerson ...
Tight end Kellen Winslow ...
Tight end Russ Francis ...
Running back Roger Craig ...
Defensive back Ronnie Lott ...
Wide receiver Jerry Rice ...
... and 4-time Superbowl Champion
In 1986, Ronnie Lott, Kellen Winslow, and some others bought Keith an airplane ticket to Hawaii:
quarterback Joe Montana:
"As it turned out, Joe Montana, as well as a couple hundred other people, were on that plane. Joe recognized me because we'd been introduced a few months earlier by Ronnie Lott.
"He saw me in Business Class and asked the stewardess what it was going to take to get me moved up into the empty seat next to him. He told her that I was one of the members of his team and he needed me to be moved so that we could talk."
Turned out, Joe had issues:
Well, one issue. Nothing big, but it was one Keith thought he could help fix. One of the airlines had lost Joe's luggage. He was wearing the only clothes he had.
Since Keith was with Puma, he was able to take care of him easily with a quick phone call.
The friendship blossomed and remains solid today.
From sports stars to stock stars:
Keith began his career on Wall Street at a large brokerage house, and quickly excelled at trading commodities. He graduated to trading greater and greater amounts to the point where he was handling $300 million a day.
He later shifted to Merrill Lynch where he was on the team which put together some of the largest mergers that Merrill Lynch had ever done, including the mergers of Elektra Records, Blue Note Records, and Atlantic Records into the mammoth Warner Music Group.
One reason he gained his entree into finance in the first place was his 24-carat solid gold contacts in the sports world. Amateur athletes could now accept money. Including gold medal Olympic champions like Keith's friend, Edwin Moses. Someone had to be there to help them wisely manage that money. Fatefully, Keith was well positioned.
Keith introduced many sports people to the world of finance, and finance people introduced Keith to many athletes.
Do you follow the stock market and great investors?
Keith ended up going to Omaha for the annual carnival they call the Berkshire-Hathaway Annual Stockholder's Meeting. It was enlightening in so many ways. He was there representing a bunch of his Wall Street clients and had the incredible opportunity to sit and visit with Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha.
Would you like to meet and talk with Warren Buffett
in his Omaha office?
There were lots of things about Warren that impressed Keith. The most impressive thing for Keith was his love of sports. Where other people had certificates of appreciation and diplomas on the walls of their offices, Warren had one of baseball star Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez's autographed jerseys.
He could talk about anything in the business world, but in a one-on-one conversation, he loved sports.
They talked about statistics, stocks, and sports. The insight Keith gained was the explanation of how the Benjamin Graham method for rating businesses can be applied to the ranking of sports teams. It's a solid predictor of the end of a season, except for football, basketball, or any other sport that has wild-card slots.
From stock stars to sports stars:
It turns out Keith fatefully worked at a commodities trading firm which used his securities license as a cover to engage in some mighty illegal activity. Keith arrived one morning for work to find the doors locked and the furniture gone.
With his securities license suspended during the ensuing investigation, Keith needed to find a new career. He did. As a promo representative for Puma Sports. He found it through one of his sports star friends, football great Willie Gault.
As a rep, Keith had passes to everything. Such as Celebrity Zone seating at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
And as a rep, he could easily and casually introduce his friends who were stars in the finance world to his friends in the sports world. One finance friend, who managed money for the super-rich, had a client (a multiple Oscar-winning director and household name) who wanted good seats for the Opening Ceremonies of that 1984 Olympics.
So Keith just handed that mega movie director client with the household name his tickets.
At that Olympics, Keith's friend Edwin Moses won the gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles. Standing on the winner's stand, Moses called Keith's two young sons to join him on the stand.
Not long after,
that small fateful event took place,
bringing sports and stocks and
sports and stocks again
to a screeching halt:
"So what brings you down to this part of Los Angeles?"
"I'm on trial for money laundering. It's a federal case."
With Keith's assets frozen by the federal authorities, money was hard to come by. And his time was taken up in his legal defense, with no time to allocate to his Puma rep job.
No longer working on Wall Street, Keith now learned to profitably trade new types of commodities on Los Angeles' side streets. Unfortunately, the police found his stock for sale "on his person."
Keith was sentenced to three years in prison. There he watched prisoners die from brutal, absolutely inhumane abuse by the guards and others. And he went on to serve several more prison terms.
As Keith explains:
"The important thing to know about prison is the constant, low-level fear you have to face, punctuated by moments of real terror. It's like being in a combat zone, but without a gun or a helmet. At any point in time, a prisoner looking to make a name for himself could walk up and stab you. Guards could be persuaded to shoot an unruly prisoner if they thought the prisoner looked dangerous. In general, there is no place I can think of worse than being incarcerated in a California State Correctional Facility of any kind."
Somewhere, a prisoner did make a name for himself. Keith was stabbed in the back.
Besides Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Eric Dickerson, Roger Craig, Russ Francis, Edwin Moses, Willie Gault, Renaldo Nehemiah, and many other professional sports superstars and world champions ...
Keith befriended others who played tennis and basketball, such as:
"You probably know him as "Mr. President"
Keith met Barry early in Barry's freshman year at Punahou School. Keith was a junior.
or "Mr. Obama"
or even perhaps as "Barack."
I knew him as Barry:"
Since Keith knows Barry, I'll let him tell you about him:
"In Barry's book, he wrote, "Despite the difference in age, we'd fallen into an easy friendship, due in no small part to the fact that together we made up almost half of Punahou's Black high school population. I enjoyed his company; he had a warmth and brash humor ... .
"Everyone else remembers Barry as the bright kid with the million dollar smile, but I knew the truth."
A search for self
and a desperation to belong to "something:"
One of the key parts of any teenager's life is the search for self. Barry and I had a tougher search than many. His father had divorced his mother early in his life, and she had remarried. Barry had spent three years in Jakarta with his mother and stepfather, which gave him a completely different perspective on poverty.
When he was ten, he moved into the apartment of his maternal grandparents. They weren't rich. His grandmother worked in a bank and his grandfather was an insurance agent and an investor in lots of little neighborhood businesses. Yet they managed to get Barry accepted into the elementary school at Punahou School -- the elite K-through-12 private college prep school -- in time for his fifth grade year.
Barry wanted desperately to belong to "something." His family had been torn away from him; first from his father when he divorced his mother, and then from his mother when she sent him back to Hawaii to live with her parents.
Barry's not African American:
He wasn't white, even though everyone else in his family was.
He wasn't Black, since the only Black influence he had in his life was television. His Christian upbringing was held in stark contrast to his African roots and the influences of living in the Muslim country of Jakarta for three years.
He wasn't African American, at least not with the sense that term has taken on: a meaning that includes a heritage of slavery. Barry didn't have that heritage. He was born in America as the son of an African.
The issue for Barry wasn't what he was to become: it was what he saw himself as, and from some perspectives, what he couldn't see in himself.
It took him a long time to realize that at Punahou School, he was a member of an elite club made up of a couple handfuls of Black kids and 2,700 others.
Outside the military bases, there weren't many Blacks on the island of Oahu to start with — only 1% of the population.
He just didn't have many role models to emulate.
Barry was searching down any avenue available to find out what it meant to represent quintessential Black culture, partly to find his father in himself and partly because he was one of the few Black students in the school.
He was constantly aware he was Black even though almost no one else was. He was just always aware of his separation from the rest of the students because of his unique racial background. He was cripplingly self-conscious about it. Yet most people on campus had absolutely no hint to his internal struggles.
So, what's a young Black man to do to learn about his heritage?
Barry's search for his social identity included role models tending towards the modern, such as the Black men and women of the 1960s civil rights movement.
He devoured the works of Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Angela Davis. The more reading he consumed, the more he looked to this Black heritage to define him.
He learned what it was like to be a Black man in America -- but he couldn't possibly embrace it. Barry wasn't an African American, not in the same way that Malcolm X or Martin Luther King was. He was an American who happened to be the son of an African. He wasn't descended from slaves.
It's crystal clear Barry wouldn't be the man he is today if he had gone to any other school in Hawaii or had grown up in Chicago. His attitudes and outlook are clearly Hawaiian. His approach to diplomacy is clearly Hawaiian.
There is no way the Chicago political machine could have shaped Barry to be the man he is today. Absolutely no way.
"I think I'll become a Muslim:"
Barry and I were in the Academy's large school library one Wednesday afternoon. He picked up a Malcolm X book and said that he'd thought about maybe becoming a Muslim.
I said, "Hold on, man. What you gonna do? You don't know the first thing about being a Muslim.What are you going to do, change your name?"
He said, "Well, my name is Barack Hussein Obama."
Hmm ... Hussein, huh?
"I slapped Barry ... HARD:"
At Punahou, the sports fans always actively supported the athletes.
One of those fans was Barry's grandfather, Mr. Dunham, known as "Gramps." He went to every game, every meet, and every competition and cheered for us. He was everyone's grandfather. We were his adopted family. And we all respected Mr. Dunham.
Barry whined and griped: "Gramps doesn't understand me. He can't — he's white. There's no way that an old white man can understand what it's like for a young Black man in America."
I slapped him — HARD. Barry dropped to the ground like someone had taken the bones out of his legs.
Barry and I made up and continued to be friends. He continued to search for his "Blackness," but he never did find it in high school. I taught him how to dance the Hustle and how to dress, but I could never teach him what it meant to be Black. He continued the search for himself. So did I.
When I graduated from high school, I knew we'd both be fine. I had my college scholarships and promising sports career, and Barry had his extended family.
I was half right.
"Someday I'm going to be President:"
Barry stood in the front yard of my house as a bunch of us lounged around.
Somehow, the discussion turned to politics. President Jimmy Carter had just announced that he had appointed two Blacks to important positions in his cabinet: Andrew Young as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations and Patricia Roberts Harris as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Barry then boldly announced he was going to be America's first Black President.
In the backs of all of our minds, we really knew that Barry could do it. To be honest, given the caliber of Punahou School students, if any of us at random declared, "Someday I'm going to be President," the voice in your head would agree: "You know, he just be might."
Barry was willing to stand up and actually say it. That put him in a much different class of people than those lacking confidence.
It wasn't until the election that we called each others to say, "You know, we laughed at him when he told us he was going to be President. Damned if he isn't gonna do it."
He's from Hawaii and is Hawaiian in all aspects except ethnicity:
One area my friends and I talk about today is the challenges Barry has as President. We talk about the differences between living on the mainland and living in the Islands. When my friend Jack, who's originally from Seattle, sees or listens to Barry, he hears the same serious Island boy.
The papers and magazines talk about Barry as if he's from Chicago, then try to understand him as if he is. But he isn't. His formative years were in Hawaii, amongst the Hawaiians. Their attitudes are his. Their approach is his. Their desires are his. Unfortunately, I can't explain it to you. You literally had to be there to get it.
The Nomination and Election of Barack Obama:
When I got out of prison in early 2007 and began to rise from that icy tomb of constant, gripping terror, I was about to receive many 15 minutes of fame. All unwanted. The whole world was clamoring and bashing in doors to talk to me.
The messages were almost always the same: "Mr. Kakugawa, we'd like to talk to you about your appearance in Senator Barack Obama's book Dreams From My Father."
Before I returned the first reporter's message, I managed to get a call into Barry's campaign. He was just coming off the floor of the Senate, so it was relatively easy for him to stop and take a minute to talk to an old friend. While I was talking to Barry, he asked me about my dad. I told him that everyone was fine.
My family, on the other hand, remembered him as he was. I was watching TV with my aunt when Barry came on to give a speech. My auntie is an older lady. She was born in Hawaii when it was still a
territory. She still speaks the same lilting pidgin English that so many Hawaiians do.
"Izn dat da kine popolo (Black) boy what used to come t'our house in Waianae?"
I replied, "Yes, auntie. That's Barry."
I expected her to say something about how proud she was of one of her extended family running for President.
"Him too skinny. Him need one good Hawaiian girl feed him once in a while. Him's wahine (wife) Michelle: don' she cook? You need to call him — we make him some good Hawaiian food and he not be so skinny no more."
The OTHER party:
What WON'T they do?
One person who identified himself as a member of the Republican National Congressional Committee (and always referred to himself in the third person as "Mr. Jones") offered to get me out of my "current situation" with the California Department of Corrections ... if I would talk to the press about all the partying, specifically the "drugs and hookers" Barry and I had done while we were in school. He had even gone so far as to offer me a list of "things" we had done together in high school.
That was ONE party I definitely wasn't going to.
"You're GONNA Drink, Barry!"
The press has asked me constantly about Barry's drinking in high school. It's a point of perverse pride, but I was the one that got Barry started drinking beer in high school. I distinctly remember forcing Barry into getting drunk with us.
It was early evening and Barry came around to where we were sitting. He had a can of Coke in his hand and I demanded, "Do you have rum in that?" He was the youngest guy there. The rest of us were high school juniors and seniors.
"I don't drink," was Barry's response. It was true — he didn't at the time.
I looked at him and told him flat out, "You're GONNA drink."
Our friend Marc pointed at the swimming pool we were lounging around and warned, "Keith says you're gonna drink, so you're GONNA drink or they're GONNA throw you in the drink."
"Please overnight me your pineapple upside-down cake!"
After an interview in my living room with the CNN program Anderson Cooper 360, my mother-in-law brought out some homemade pineapple upside-down cake for everyone to enjoy. She's a great baker. Even today, we still get requests from the CNN guys asking if we wouldn't mind "overnighting" a cake to them in New York.
Does Barry understand other cultures?
Barry is not stereotypically or ethnocentrically Black. He's a Hawaiian so he naturally understands other cultures. He really had no choice in the matter. Living in Hawaii and growing up in Hawaii forces anyone to either deliberately insulate themselves from the different cultures in the Islands or to embrace the cultural differences and really celebrate them.
Election Night 2008:
It was fun to watch as the results started to come in from various states throughout Election Day.
At 9:00 that night, I got a call on my cell phone. It was my father — his voice bubbled with elation as he hollered into the phone:
"Guess what — my nephew is the President of the United States!"
You've heard this expression, haven't you?
Well, you just got a revealing peek into the fascinating fateful world of a man on a roller coaster ride through life who:
"It's not what you know.
It's WHO you know that counts."
The better expression is:
"It's who knows YOU that counts:"
- Started by being babysat by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's girlfriend ...
- Was surrounded by the future leaders of the famous Black Panthers, an African-American revolutionary leftist organization whose leaders espoused socialist and communist doctrine ...
- Moved to Hawaii and was sent to the elite Punahou School, where he befriended future US President Barack Obama and future AOL founder Steve Case ...
- Traded a $300 million Swiss Franc currency fund ...
- Sat down and chatted with Warren Buffett in his Omaha office ...
- Worked on the team that put together the mergers of Elektra Records, Blue Note Records, and Atlantic Records into the mammoth Warner Music Group ...
- Befriended a wealth of sports superstars including: 4-time Superbowl Champion quarterback Joe Montana ... running back Eric Dickerson ... tight end Kellen Winslow ... tight end Russ Francis ... running back Roger Craig ... defensive back Ronnie Lott ... wide receiver Jerry Rice ... hurdler and wide receiver Renaldo Nehemiah ...hurdler and wide receiver Willie Gault ... and Olympic Gold Medalist Edwin Moses ... and many more ...
- And has been interviewed or appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal ...The New York Times ... ABC's Good Morning America ... ABC's Night Line ... CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 ... Newsweek ... Time ... Rolling Stone ... major German magazine Stern ...and many, MANY MORE!
Now, Keith's voice messages are overloaded
He was the first member of his Punahou School class to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
with requests from the worldwide media:
When Barry Obama first ran for President, Keith found himself inundated by reporters wanting information on the Democratic candidate.
And the calls continued after Obama was elected.
He's been interviewed by dozens of media outlets, like The Globe, Newsweek, Time, The Enquirer, Rolling Stone, Stern (the major German magazine), as well as CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, Good Morning America, and Night Line.
And as Barry Obama runs for his second term, Keith's voice message system is being taxed to the max.
And he's turned down many more interviews. Along with an ocean of cash to go with those interviews. Such as the one offering ...
$70,000 in cold hard cash for a single interview:
Discover how one famous supermarket tabloid (which one?) first offered Keith $7,000, then upped its offer. Then more. And still even more. Then finally, a $70,000 cashier's check in exchange for a "shocking, untold story" about then-Senator Obama to print alongside its usual fare of dog-faced humans being abducted by aliens.
Most people in desperate financial straits would have gladly solved their situations by saying, "Yes". With his assets frozen, Keith was definitely in desperate financial straits and the money would have eased a lot of his pressure ... so did he take the money? Many say he did. Many say he didn't. There's only one way to know: find out.
We all can gain valuable insight by reading this book.
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