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Last defendant sentenced in scheme to defraud Hawaii housing programs

The last participant in a scheme that defrauded local housing programs of more than $100,000 was sentenced in Hawaii’s U.S. District Court today.

Raelene Rodrigues, 62, of Honolulu was sentenced by Judge Derrick Watson to one year in prison after being found guilty of one count of wire fraud conspiracy and two counts of wire fraud involving the Institute for Human Service, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to those at risk of homelessness in Hawaii.

The scheme ran from approximately April 2015 to August 2017 and involved four people, all of whom have now been sentenced for their participation, including IHS housing specialist Leopoldo Bitte, Jr.

Bitte, 38, of Hilo, entered into agreements with Rodrigues and two others to defraud the IHS by falsely representing them as landlords eligible to receive IHS funds that were meant for the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing and Clean and Sober programs.

A portion of these funds were provided through federal grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“This case illustrates how defrauding federally funded programs does more than just illegally take money from the federal government — it also deprives struggling members of our community of the monetary assistance they need to subsist,” said U.S. Attorney Clare Connors in a statement. “These convictions bring to justice those who enrich themselves at the expense of those in need of financial assistance.”

Bitte created fake rental agreements by using the names and personal identifying information of individuals who had applied legitimately for IHS services. However Rodrigues, Gregory Lau, 40, of San Leandro, Calif., and Kalani Lopez, 38, of Honolulu were identified as the landlords.

The fake rental agreements and other documents were used to generate checks payable to Rodrigues, Lau and Lopez, and that money was split with Bitte.

The scheme resulted IHS generating 34 checks totaling over $100,000 payable to Rodrigues, Lau and Lopez.

In August Bitte was sentenced to 38 months in prison — 14 months for wire fraud conspiracy and 24 months for aggravated identity theft. His sentence will be followed by two years of supervised release.

Lopez in August was sentenced to three years of probation; in June Lau was sentenced to 30 days in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Rodrigues today was sentenced to 12 months and one day of prison followed by three years of supervised release.

All the defendants in the case are required to make restitution to IHS and its insurer.

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