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Shelter losses prompt investigation

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 2:11 a.m. HST, Nov 16, 2013

The state Department of Human Services is investigating the alleged theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Leeward Oahu homeless shelter.

Hawaii News Now reported Wednesday the investigation is focusing on the alleged theft of $800,000 by the former program director of Waianae Community Outreach.

The nonprofit receives nearly $1 million a year from the state to operate a transitional shelter in Kalaeloa and provide outreach services for hundreds of homeless Leeward Coast families.

Christy Ho, an attorney for the nonprofit, said human services investigators are requesting nearly all of the organization's financial records, including board meeting meetings.

A spokeswoman for DHS said the department won't comment on the matter because it's under investigation.

The organization is suing former program director Laura Pitolo, claiming she signed checks to herself and family members and made unauthorized withdrawals. Pitolo declined to comment.

The suit alleges the thefts occurred over four years and that Pitolo made dozens of unauthorized ATM withdrawals and wrote checks to herself, her friends and family members, including $169,000 to her father. She was fired after the alleged thefts were discovered.

Ho said the thefts didn't force the nonprofit to cut services to the homeless, but that employees were affected. Some workers went without pay for up to three months, said Tanya Tehotu, interim director.

"Unfortunately, the worst that can happen is that the contracts we have with the state could be pulled back," said Cynthia Rezentes, a Waianae Community Outreach board member.

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