Līhuʻe, Kauai — On Tuesday, after years of struggle, a man Mark Zuckerberg supports secured a series of disputed properties that lie within the bounds of Zuckerberg’s vast estate in the northeast corner of Kauai in Hawaii. Carlos Andrade, a retired Hawaiian studies professor, won the four properties, totaling 2.2 acres, at auction for more than $3 million. He was bidding against his distant cousin Wayne James Rapozo, who represents a collection of family members who’ve been fighting to keep their ancestral property out of Zuckerberg’s control.
Held in an undecorated court hallway on the second floor of the Fifth Circuit Court, the auction seemed subdued considering the controversy that surrounds these kuleana lands. More than a dozen onlookers, including residents, family members, lawyers, and reporters, watched as Andrade’s lawyer Harvey Cohen and Rapozo’s lawyer Craig DeCosta threw out higher and higher numbers to bid for the plots, while Commissioner Patrick Childs, who oversaw the auction, flipped through his yellow legal pad to keep tabs on the parcels’ prices. DeCosta was on the phone with his client, who is based in London, and discussed what to bid on, while Cohen seemed to have his plan set out in advance with Andrade. To add a little twist to the scene, :Megeso-William-Alan: Denis, who was wearing a large crystal pendant and feather adornments around his neck, also bid one silver dollar, which Childs responded was only worth $16.
“I’m very disappointed,” Shaylyn Kimura, a resident of Kauai and cousin of Wayne Rapozo and Andrade, said about the outcome of the hearing.
Zuckerberg’s and his wife Priscilla Chan bought up more than 700 acres for over $144 million in 2014, and his effort to consolidate the patchwork of lands within the estate has been controversial since he started building a six-foot wall around his property. The wall created a sphere of seclusion at odds with how most people live on Kauai, to say nothing of the fact that it blocks the view to the ocean.
The four parcels auctioned on Tuesday are known as kuleana lands and were thrust into the spotlight when news broke in 2017 that Zuckerberg was using shell companies he created with names like Northshore Kalo LLC to sue to gain ownership of the kuleana lands that lie within his property. Kuleana lands were designated in the 1850s as a way to convey property rights to Hawaiians, who before then had shared land communally. The lands were intended to be passed down within families for generations. There was a vocal backlash from the Hawaiian community, who view Zuckerberg as just the latest foreigner to take their ancestral lands.
In response to the backlash, Zuckerberg said he would stop pursuing rights to the land and would support Andrade, who is the great-grandson of Manuel Rapozo, a Portuguese immigrant who bought the four Kuleana lands in 1894.
Andrade is part Native Hawaiian and was born on Kauai, where he has lived and cultivated the lands since the 1970s, according to a statement he sent me in March. During a tour of the off-the-grid properties, a home Andrade said he built out of recycled materials still stood, but was run down. Trees on the properties were wild but still producing fruit, and there was evidence of cultivated taro ponds.
“Me and my immediate family (wife, children, and grandchildren) have been living on, using, cultivating, caring for, and protecting the family lands in Pila’a for more than 40 years – and so far as I know are the only members of the Rapozo family that have done so,” Andrade said in his statement.
Andrade continued the fight against his extended family members, leading Judge Kathleen Watanabe to order the land be sold at auction to end the dispute. The specifics of how Zuckerberg has supported Andrade have not been made apparent. In response to a request for comment, Zuckerberg’s spokesperson repeated statements he sent me before:
“In 2017, Mark withdrew as a plaintiff from the quiet title actions regarding the kuleana lands adjacent to his property. Neither Mark nor anyone representing him will bid in the auction. Following the completion of the auction, Mark will not own any interest in any of the kuleana involved in the quiet title action. Nor will Northshore Kalo or any entity associated with him.
“As Mark stated in his 2017 op-ed in The Garden Island, he supports Dr. Andrade’s claim to the property because Dr. Andrade is the only member of the Rapozo family to have cared for, lived on and paid taxes on this land and he did so over the course of 40 years.”
On March 22, the first of the two public auctions was held on the steps of Kauai’s courthouse with attendees holding protest signs along with ti leaves and waving the Hawaiian flag.
That day, Wayne Rapozo’s group won the smallest of the four parcels for $1,004,586. It’s a mostly undeveloped piece of land, with dilapidated farming equipment and papaya trees. Andrade won the other three properties for a little over a million dollars. He won the property where he had built a home, along with a nearby area with a stream. The third kuleana he won was not shown on the tour of the properties, because there is no access road, according to the commissioner.
On Tuesday, anyone was allowed to bid on the properties as long as their bid was 5 per cent higher than the previous amounts. The auction opened with the property that Wayne Rapozo had won, and Andrade’s attorney placed the minimum bid of $1,054,815, which he then won. This freed up Wayne Rapozo’s original bid of $1,004,586 for the parcel he lost for use on the other properties.
He bid on two of the other properties, pushing one from 300,000 to half a million dollars before his lawyer asked over the phone “Do you want to stop?” and the other from $430,537 up to $645,805. Wayne Rapozo did not bid on the property where Andrade had built a house. In the end, Carlos Andrade outbid his relatives, winning all four properties.
“I have discussed the bidding with various branches of the family,” said Wayne Rapozo in an emailed statement. “We are disappointed that we were outbid on the parcel that we initially secured in the first round of bidding over a month ago.
“We wanted to be seen and heard, and we wanted to make a good faith effort to outbid Carlos the retired professor supposedly bidding on his own,” he continued. “But, at the same time, we did not want to get caught up in this game of wrongdoing. At some point, we thought the bidding itself would expose the level of the fraud.”
Some descendants of Manuel Rapozo—there are hundreds of heirs according to court records—have said that Andrade must be getting financial support from Zuckerberg.
“We think after being outbid by a retired college professor spending $US2 ($3),145,000, it is now clear that something very wrong is going on,” Rapozo wrote.
Rapozo wrote that he and other family members believe, based on Andrade’s “own bravado boasting,” that he is being paid by Zuckerberg to restrict access. During the court proceedings, Attorney Dan Hempey said Anthony Rapozo, another descendant of Manuel Rapozo, who was sitting in the benches watching, was in a car with Andrade when he said he was being paid $US6,000 ($8,611) a month by Zuckerberg’s people or companies to not rent out the properties—“in other words, to keep people out,” said Hempey.
Kimura, a great-great-granddaughter of Manuel Rapozo, said she was sceptical of Andrade’s financial situation because a letter he wrote to the family “had stated that basically he is a retired professor on a fixed income and he couldn’t possibly pay everyone off, and then now he switched and he can bid $3.145 million.”
In an email sent through his attorney in March, Andrade said that he wants to secure the land for his family. As of last night, Andrade and his lawyer had not responded to multiple emails requesting comment about the auction or his relatives’ allegations.
“The meeting and collusion with Mark Zuckerberg has really just been to fund what he has been trying to do all along,” said Kimura. “It’s a travesty,” she added later.
Kimura also took issue with the idea that Andrade is the only family member who has spent time at the property.
“My children have grown up on the land, but it wasn’t because of Carlos,” said Kimura. “Carlos did everything possible to keep us off the land our entire lives. My children learned to drive on the land. We have animals buried on the land. We spent countless hours enjoying the property and the beach, but that wasn’t because of him. He did everything to keep us off.”
She also thinks Andrade has been overstating his role in the development of the land, skewing the narrative.
“This idea that we are a bunch of people who didn’t even know we had the land, who didn’t know anything about it until we were served papers is completely false,” she said. “The Rapozo family is very present and strong on this island.”
The fight is not completely finished as Wayne Rapozo has said he will appeal, which will keep the privacy of Zuckerberg’s sanctuary in limbo for a little longer.
“I and the many of the holdout Rapozos expect to continue the lawsuit against Carlos and unnamed co-conspirators for fraud and related actions, and we also expected to appeal the confirmation of sale and the quiet title case,” he said.