Man who stole from elderly in landscaping scam gets five-year prison term

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - His defense lawyer calls him a decent man with a drug problem. But prosecutors say he's a con artist who targets the elderly. On Thursday, a man who stole money from nearly a dozen senior citizens using a landscaping scam was sentenced to five years in prison.

Trimming trees and clearing green waste are some of the services that Vilisoni Mafi promised to provide to his elderly victims. But the 32-year-old never delivered.

Florence Loebl, 95, stays young by eating vegetables and gardening. She says she's been approached by strangers offering to do her yard work for cash.

"If people come here and they come by the gate and they ask for job, I tell them, 'Sorry, no job, no job,'" the Kaimuki resident said. "If they stay, I say, 'I'm calling the police.'"

But at least 10 other senior citizens in East Oahu were scammed, when they trusted admitted drug addict Vilisoni Mafi. The victims, ranging in age from 71 to 95, gave him money for yard work, and then he disappeared.

"I don't think it's fair for people to do things like that to senior citizen," Loebl said.

"I know the things that I've done was wrong in every which way," Mafi said. "I can not make up for the past."

From property crimes to violent offenses, Honolulu prosecutors say their caseload involving victims 60 years of age or older is growing. Their Elder Abuse Justice Unit handled 57 cases in 2009, but more than 100 cases in 2010.

A month-and-a-half into 2011, the unit is on pace to shatter last year's caseload.

"We're seeing a dramatic increase," Scott Spallina, deputy prosecutor, said. "It's a huge problem. That's one reason why (chief prosecutor) Keith Kaneshiro expanded the elder abuse team."

Mafi, meanwhile, received a five-year prison term for his 10 counts of theft.

Deputy public defender Steve Nichols requested that the sentence be delayed so that his client can complete substance abuse treatment first. Circuit Judge Colette Garibaldi rejected that request and ordered the convicted thief into custody immediately.

"I would make it 15, 20 years," Loebl said. "Five years, he'll be out again and he'll do the same thing again."

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