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Former Hawaii charter school staffer gets 5 years in prison for embezzlement

Kelaukila Estabilio, who managed the finances for Kua O Ka La Public Charter School on Hawaii island, has been sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling $628,835 from the school.

She siphoned off the money over a period of six years, spending it on personal credit card bills for herself and her family that ranged from extensive travel and restaurant meals to shopping at Victoria’s Secret and Bruno Mars tickets, according to Kenji Price, U.S. attorney for the District of Hawaii.

Even after Kua O Ka La’s campus in Pahoa was overrun by lava in July 2018, Estabilio pocketed $90,000 from the school and its affiliated nonprofit, Ho‘oulu Lahui, before her fraud was uncovered, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

At sentencing Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson opted for a longer punishment than federal guidelines for Estabilio, 40, describing her conduct as reprehensible and driven by greed and a sense of entitlement.

Estabilio began working at the charter school in 2006 and stole a total of $628,835 from 2012 through January 2019.

She falsified the books and records of the charter school to conceal her embezzlement activities from fellow staff members, taking advantage of her position of trust as the school’s financial officer, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“While charter schools and other educational institutions work to educate our keiki, unfortunately there are those like Estabilio who undermine those efforts to line their own pockets,” Price said. “As a result of this prosecution, Estabilio will have five years in federal prison to reflect upon the damage her actions caused to the native Hawaiian community, and the plight of those whose lives are so dramatically impacted by her shameful conduct.”

The fraud was discovered by other staff members in November 2018. Watson noted that because of her actions, money the charter school needed to educate students and to rebuild was not there when it was most needed.

Along with the prison term, the judge imposed three years of supervised release, restitution, and criminal forfeiture.

“Today’s sentencing sends a very simple message that these types of financial frauds will not go unpunished—they will be investigated to the fullest extent of the law,” said Trevor Fenwick, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service Honolulu Field Office, which investigated the case with help from the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office.

Kua O Ka La, now located on Kilauea Avenue in Hilo, has continued operating and will start the new academic year on Aug. 17. It serves students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

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