HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former secretary at Pearl Ridge Elementary, who admits to stealing nearly $69,000 in school funds, will likely side-step prison time under a plea deal with the state.
Denise Hayashi wasted no time in taking responsibility. Just one week after a criminal complaint containing nearly 100 felony charges was filed against her, the Waipahu resident pleaded guilty as charged.
Because the defendant has no criminal history, state prosecutors say they entered into the plea agreement to make sure that she wouldn't seek a deferral and would, instead, be on record as a convicted felon.
Flanked by her supporters, Denise Hayashi on Monday prepared to admit that she stole $68,870.75 from the students and staff who entrusted her as the secretary in control of a school fund at Pearl Ridge Elementary.
"What's her feeling about what she has done?" this reporter asked.
"She feels terrible," Don Wilkerson, defense attorney, replied.
"What is your plea to all 99 counts?" Richard Perkins, Circuit Court judge, asked.
"Guilty," the defendant replied.
The 41-year-old, who says she's on daily medication for depression, pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft and 98 counts of felony forgery.
State prosecutors say over a two-and-a-half year period, she wrote 98 school checks out to herself, forged the principal's signature, and deposited them into her own account for personal use.
"That's something that she never told us, what she used the money for," Christopher Young, deputy attorney general, said.
Her scheme unraveled when a check bounced.
"That's when the school finally found out that something was going on," Young said. "So if she hadn't overdrawn the checks, she probably could have kept this scheme going for a long time."
Hayashi has since paid back the money she stole.
Under a plea deal, she will be sentenced to five years probation, will be ordered to pay more than $20,000 in fines and court fees, and must serve 1,500 hours of community service. She must also write a letter of apology to the students, parents and staff at Pearl Ridge Elementary.
A one-year jail term will kick in only if she fails to follow the conditions.
"She's terrified of going to jail, as most people are," Wilkerson said. "That was part of the agreement -- no jail."
"We believe this plea agreement properly punishes her for the wrongdoing that she did, and sends that message to the community that we will go after you and there will be penalty when you steal from the state," Young said.
Several people connected to the public school system expressed sadness over the case.
"I think that she should be serving some type of jail sentence," Shelby Costa, teacher and concerned parent, said. "She probably got off a little bit too easy. She didn't murder anybody, but I still think that what she did was horrible."
Wilkerson says his client isn't getting away with anything.
"This is a terrible embarrassment to her and her family," he said. "In addition to the fines and the fees, (she will have) a felony record for the rest of her life."
Hayashi's sentencing is set for August 30th.