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Former Hawai‘i Public Official Pleads Guilty to Embezzling from AmeriCorps

Stacy Higa, 58, a former public official from Hilo, Hawaiʻi, pleaded guilty today to embezzling more than $38,000 from AmeriCorps and also to offering a bribe in return for grants under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Higa pleaded guilty in the US District Court for the District of Columbia to one count each of embezzlement and bribery. Both charges carry statutory maximums of 10 years in prison and financial penalties. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, Higa faces a likely range of between 46 and 57 months in prison and a fine of up to $200,000. The plea agreement requires him to pay $38,642 in restitution to AmeriCorps and an identical amount in a forfeiture money judgment. The Honorable Reggie B. Walton scheduled sentencing for Jan. 13, 2022.

The announcement was made by Channing D. Phillips, Acting US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Deborah Jeffrey, Inspector General of AmeriCorps, and Steven Merrill, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office.

From June 2011 until May 2020, Higa, a former Hawaiʻi County council member and mayoral candidate, served as the Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Commission for National and Community Service, the state service commission responsible for administering AmeriCorps programs in Hawaiʻi. The US Department of Justice reports that “from February 2018 through his resignation from the Commission, Higa embezzled more than $38,000 in AmeriCorps funds by signing and authorizing contracts and purchase orders between the Hawaii Commission and two companies that he owned or controlled, without disclosing his control of the companies.”

“This defendant has admitted taking money from programs that were designed to help the most vulnerable Americans,” said Acting US Attorney Phillips. “The United States Department of Justice will aggressively prosecute and seek to hold accountable those individuals who choose to abuse their positions of power to enrich themselves at the cost of the American people.”

In another scheme, Higa admitted to offering financial benefits to Hanalei Aipoalani, who was hired in August 2020 as Honolulu City and County’s Department of Community Service’s CARES Program Administrator. As part of his plea agreement, Higa admitted to expecting to receive at least $250,000 in profit from the CARES Act funds.

Aipoalani, 42, of Waiʻanae, Hawaiʻi, separately pleaded guilty in the US District Court for the District of Columbia to embezzling from AmeriCorps and agreeing to accept a bribe under the CARES Act. Aipoalani was sentenced on June 30, 2021 to 46 months in prison and ordered to pay over $532,730 in restitution to AmeriCorps.

Original source: https://mauinow.com/2021/10/13/former-hawaii-public-official-pleads-guilty-to-embezzling-from-americorps/

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