HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A woman who admitted to stealing nearly $69,000 from Pearl Ridge Elementary spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, apologizing for her actions during her sentencing at Honolulu Circuit Court.
"Just to tell the staff and students at Pearl Ridge Elementary that I'm deeply sorry for the theft that I have done and taking away the resources that they were not able to fulfill 'cause all the money that I have taken," Denise Hayashi, convicted thief, said.
The 41-year-old says she made a mistake.
But state prosecutors described it as a calculated, intentional act by someone who abused her position. Still, they recommended probation instead of prison.
Circuit Judge Richard Perkins sentenced the former school secretary to five years probation, pursuant to a plea agreement between the defendant and the state Attorney General's office.
Deputy Attorney General Christopher Young says the state cut the deal to ensure that Hayashi would have a felony conviction on her record. Under the agreement, the first-time offender gave up her right to ask for a deferral, which would have given her the chance to keep her record conviction free.
"We felt that the ability for her to move for that deferral and get it granted, where she could legally say I have no record, was too great for us to take," Young said.
The defendant pleaded guilty as charged to 98 counts of felony forgery and one count of felony theft. State prosecutors say that over a two-and-a-half year period, she forged the principal's signature on 98 school checks and deposited them into her own account.
"The principal trusted her in her role as the school secretary to be writing checks for legitimate school purposes," Young said. "She basically emptied that account."
The money she pocketed was supposed to be used for children's activities.
"I'm very remorseful at this point," Hayashi said. "I'm sorry to my family and friends for the shame that I have put them through."
Her scheme was exposed when one of the checks bounced. Defense attorney Don Wilkerson says his client took responsibility and paid the money back.
"She wanted to immediately contact the police, talk to them and inform them of everything that she had done," Wilkerson said. "She wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to prosecute her."
The judge also ordered Hayashi to pay $20,695 in fines and court fees, and serve 1,500 hours of community service.
"Which is an extremely long period of time, you know, almost a year's worth of work to do," Wilkerson said about the community service requirement. "She has made plans to begin that immediately."
The now-convicted felon scurried out of the courtroom wearing dark sunglasses and shielding her face with papers. She has not disclosed what she used the stolen money for.
"That's something that I can't force a defendant to tell me. I don't know," Young said. "I think, as I said in court, she found it easy to do and so she did it."
The school account contained money that was collected through fundraisers and parent donations. The state says Hayashi's crime put a cloud of suspicion over the school, and that parents were not willing to donate as much.
A one-year jail term will kick in if she fails to follow any of the conditions set by the court.