WAILUKU — A Molokai woman is serving a six-month prison sentence for stealing tens of thousands of dollars from a nonprofit that employed her.
Eliza-Kay Vendiola, 41, was doing bookkeeping for the Molokai Community Service Council when she wrote fraudulent checks to herself and others from June 30, 2017 to December 12, 2019, court records show.
“We want to reiterate that we were truly hurt by this flight, and it was an ongoing process,” Karen Holt, the organization’s executive director, said when Vendiola was sentenced on Thursday.
Holt, who appeared with three board members by videoconference for sentencing in 2nd Circuit Court, said the theft was discovered after Vendiola wrote the last fraudulent check for over $4,000. .
“We have been very concerned about the future of our community’s ability to benefit from our organization,” Holt said. “She did a lot of damage to our organization and she also took the money that we had saved so that we could serve our community for years to come.”
While the restitution amount was still being calculated, Vendiola had agreed to pay $70,000, deputy public defender Jeffrey Wolfenbarger said.
She had pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree computer fraud and first-degree larceny. Forty-two counts of second-degree forgery were dismissed in exchange for his pleas.
The permanent resident of Molokai “chose to take money from her community and spend it on herself and her family,” said Assistant District Attorney JW Hupp.
He said she created a fundraiser for the Class of 1998 which was used for parties for her family. “And the other money was just taken and spent”, Hupp said.
“She always lives high,” he said. “It’s Molokai. She’s going on a trip. She’s having a good time, and the community lost all that money.
Wolfenbarger said there was a class reunion. “It was not a false event” he said.
He said that Vendiola had accepted responsibility for this “started a little small and snowballed” until she is “too deep”.
She had raised $1,000 and thought she could raise an additional $3,000 to $4,000 to repay the nonprofit that sponsored community projects, Wolfenbarger said.
A plea agreement between defense and prosecution recommended probation and no jail time for Vendiola.
“But a prison sentence should be imposed when there is an admission and there is harm to the community,” said 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill.
“The ripple effect is not just the theft of funds, but the suspicion that any loss like this causes nonprofits,” said Cahill. “Donors become very suspicious that you don’t monitor your funds properly. If the funds come from government sources, these funders can sanction nonprofit organizations.
“The smaller the community, the greater the loss of reputation, because everyone knows what is going on. Finding that confidence is hard.
As part of his sentence, Vendiola was placed on four years probation.
Cahill said the defense could ask that Vendiola’s prison sentence be reduced or suspended if his family can pay the restitution amount or have a payment plan.
A restitution hearing is set for April 21.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at [email protected]