Ex-Lehua Elementary administrator pleads guilty to stealing nearly $13,500

Janel Echiberi
Janel Echiberi
Christopher Young
Christopher Young

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - From beer and poke to furniture and tires for her car, a former administrator at Lehua Elementary in Pearl City on Thursday acknowledged that she went on shopping sprees using school funds.

Janel Echiberi, 35, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree theft and one count of second-degree forgery for stealing nearly $13,500 over a four-year period.

Parents picked up their children at Lehua Elementary, and reacted to news that a former administrator at school had pleaded guilty to stealing money intended for school use.

"She was put in a position of trust," Russ Ciardiello, parent of a second grader, said. "The school trust her. The kids are trusting her. The principal is trusting her."

But Janel Echiberi now admits she breached that trust.

Between 2004 and 2008, she had the authority to process purchases and cut checks for Lehua. State prosecutors say she was issued a Sam's Club charge card, which she used to buy $12,721.22 worth of merchandise, not for the school but for herself.

"She purchased things such as prescription contact lenses, beer and wine, tires for her vehicle, clothing, food, a king-sized bed, a high-definition television, as well as a digital camera," Christopher Young, deputy attorney general, said.

Echiberi also took advantage of her payroll responsibilities.

"She added herself as a tutor for the school, which she was never authorized or did any tutoring work," Young said. "During the period alleged, she paid herself $738.88."

"Is all of this true?" Richard Perkins, Circuit Court judge, asked.

"Yes," the defendant replied.

The defense says Echiberi regrets what she did and is taking steps to make amends.

Under a plea deal, she could receive up to a year in jail when she is sentenced in December. But she is asking for a deferral, which would keep the crime off her record if she stays out of further trouble.

"Whether she bought Taco Bell or beds or i-Pads, the crime has been committed," Ciardiello said. "Unfortunately, the school is going to suffer."

The defendant has already paid back $2,800.20. She must return the rest of the money at a rate of $300 a month.

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