A federal jury found two Maui women guilty Tuesday of conspiracy and mail fraud offenses tied to a scheme by a Hawaiian sovereignty group that bilked some 200 financially strapped residents of a total of $468,000.
According to a news release issued Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Mahealani Ventura-Oliver, 44, and Pilialoha K. Teves, 52, were part of a group known as Ko Hawaii Pae Aina, the Registry and Hawaiiloa Foundation. During 2008 and 2009, the group held weekly seminars on Maui during which Ventura-Oliver and others spoke about Hawaiian history and property rights.
In return for a fee between $1,500 and $10,000, the group promised to teach participants how to use “bonds” and other legal documents to pay off debts by drawing on fictional accounts created for each individual supposedly at birth, according to the case’s grand jury indictment.
According to evidence presented at trial, Hawaiiloa Foundation collected about $468,000 from a total of about 200 individuals seeking debt elimination. Unaware that the bonds were fake, many individuals who attempted to use them lost their homes through foreclosure, or had to renegotiate loans.
During the 11-day trial, the government presented evidence that the Hawaiiloa Foundation also promoted a tax program through which participants could seek refunds from the IRS for debts paid off with the purported bonds.
The jury found Ventura-Oliver guilty of conspiring to use fictitious financial instruments, 15 counts of mail fraud, one count of money laundering, one count of conspiring to submit false tax returns seeking $1.5 million in refunds from the IRS, and submitting one false tax return with her estranged husband, John Oliver, who was also indicted in connected with the scheme. Oliver pled guilty and testified at trial.
Teves was convicted of conspiring to use fictitious financial instruments, and of 12 counts of mail fraud, and was acquitted of three counts of mail fraud.
Ventura-Oliver and Teves will be sentenced on Feb. 10 by U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright.
Ventura-Oliver is facing a maximum sentence of five years on each of the conspiracy offenses, and the false claim offense; up to 20 years on each of the 15 mail fraud offenses; and up to 10 years on the money laundering offense of which she was convicted.
Teves could be sentenced to a maximum of five years on the conspiracy charge, and up to 20 years on each of the 12 mail fraud offenses of which she was convicted. Each charge also carries a potential fine of up to $250,000.