Monday, March 23, 2015

Hawaii Woman Charged With Embezzling $500K+ From Non-Profit

From KITV on 3/19/2015:

Laura Pitolo, 37, was charged Wednesday with six felony theft counts for allegedly diverting more than $500,000 in state funds from Waianae Community Outreach for use by herself, family members and friends, Attorney General Doug Chin announced.

"The charges against Ms. Pitolo are the result of over seven months of investigation conducted by special agents for the Attorney General into the misuse of state funds at Waianae Community Outreach," said Deputy Attorney General Michael Kagami of the Criminal Justice Division. "The evidence uncovered indicates Ms. Pitolo diverted a substantial amount of state funds for personal use."

"Hawaii citizens trust that their hard-earned tax dollars will be used to make communities better and not help one person get rich," said Chin. "The amount allegedly stolen here is extremely serious."
Waianae Community Outreach receives funding from the state of Hawaii to serve homeless individuals at its Kealahou West Oahu shelter.  Pitolo was the program director at the time the thefts occurred.  She was charged with five counts of first degree theft, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine, and one count of second degree theft, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

In 2013, WCO filed a civil lawsuit against Pitolo alleging she stole more than $760,000 from the nonprofit organization. Christy Ho, WCO's attorney, says the dollar amount discrepancy compared to the criminal case is because of evidence that the AG's office was able to gather.

"It's probably just a result of different records that they investigated," said Ho. "To me, in general, it's pretty close."

WCO recently asked for summary judgement regarding its civil lawsuit against Pitolo and is awaiting the results of that request.

"If she has any assets, you know we're definitely going to look into that," said Ho. "Any paychecks from anywhere, inheritances (and) any property. We'll try to see if there's anything to recover."
Ho said about 300 clients living at the homeless shelter didn't notice major changes because of Pitolo's alleged transgressions. That's because dedicated workers frequently took month-long pay lags to keep operations intact.

"The residents didn't feel any affect from it at all," said Ho. "So, they recovered quite nicely and kept on rolling, business as usual."

The Department of Human Services refused to say how much money is given to WCO every year, saying Hawaii law prohibits DHS from commenting on active investigations.

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