Five Maui residents were indicted Thursday in connection with a scheme by a Hawaiian sovereignty group to rid financially troubled residents of debt which wound up bilking them out of $468,000, federal law enforcement officials said.
The 25-count indictment identified the defendants as Mahealani Ventura-Oliver, 42; John Oliver, 46; Pilialoha K. Teves, 49; Leatrice Lehua Hoy, 52; and Peter Hoy, 76.
Ventura-Oliver and Oliver, who are married, run the Hawaiian sovereignty group called Hawaiiloa Foundation, which operated the scheme between 2008 and 2010, according to court documents.
Hawaiiloa Foundation conducted seminars on Maui and elsewhere, offering to teach about Hawaiian history and property rights, according to the grand jury indictment.
In private meetings with seminar participants, the defendants marketed a debt assistance program to eliminate mortgage, credit card and other debt.
In return for a fee between $1,500 and $10,000, the defendants promised to teach participants how to use "bonds" and other legal documents to pay their debts by drawing on fictional accounts created for each individual supposedly at birth, the indictment said.
Customers were issued promissory notes backed by fake bonds purportedly issued by the U.S. Treasury or state of Hawaii and told to use the notes to pay off their debts, the indictment said.
In April 2009 the FBI raided the five defendants’ homes as part of an investigation connected to Hawaiiloa Foundation. FBI agents seized vehicles, computer records, cash and other evidence.
According to news reports at the time, law enforcement officials said the group told the homeowners that because they are members of the "Hawaiian nation," the bank no longer could demand money from them because they are the land’s "rightful owners."
When the banks told the homeowners the bonds were fraudulent and they were in default on their mortgages, the companies told their clients to ignore the banks’ letters because the Hawaiiloa Foundation would respond on their behalf, officials had said.
Ventura-Oliver and Oliver also were indicted for allegedly submitting false tax returns for themselves and others, seeking refunds totaling more than $1.5 million.
The five defendants each face more than 300 years in prison for the 15 counts of mail fraud and the conspiracy charge. Ventura-Oliver and Oliver face an additional five years for tax conspiracy and 10 years for each money laundering charge.
Federal court will issue summonses to the defendants, who have not been arrested, to answer the charges, likely in June.