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State investigates Waianae homeless nonprofit

    2006 October 29 CTY - Laura Pitolo, program director for Hope for a New Beginning, walks with one of Governor Linda Lingle's security team members prior to a ceremony Sunday morning at the new Onelau'ena Shelter for the homeless in Kalaeloa. Lingle and Lt. Governor James Duke Aiona dedicated the stateÕs new transitional shelter for homeless families who had been living on beaches and parks along the Leeward Coast of O`ahu. The shelter is part of the Lingle-Aiona AdministrationÕs efforts to work collaboratively with the community and other partners to find solutions to the homeless problem in Hawai`i. Honolulu Star-Bulletin photo by Jamm Aquino.

The state Department of Human Services is investigating the alleged theft of hundreds of thousands 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 housing 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 human services 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 that 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 interim director Tanya Tehotu.

“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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