Shelter target of state investigation

Laura Pitolo
Laura Pitolo
Cynthia Rezentes
Cynthia Rezentes
Christy Ho
Christy Ho

The alleged theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars at a Leeward Oahu homeless shelter has triggered an investigation by the state Department of Human Services.

Earlier this year, the Waianae Community Outreach program sued its former program director Laura Pitolo, saying she signed checks to herself and family members and made dozens of unauthorized ATM withdrawals.

Now the state wants to know how Pitolo was able to get away with it all.

"Unfortunately, the worst that can happen is that the contracts we have with the state could be pulled back," said Cynthia Rezentes, a Waianae Community board member.

Waianae Community receives nearly $1 million a year from the state to operate a transitional housing shelter in Kalaeloa and to provide outreach services for homeless families on the Leeward Coast.

Christy Ho, attorney for the nonprofit, says that DHS investigators have requested nearly all of the organization's financial records, including minutes of its board meetings.

Ho said the thefts didn't force the nonprofit to cut services to the homeless. But she said employees were hard hit. Some workers went without pay for up to three months, said interim director Tanya Tehotu.

Ho added that the alleged thefts were uncovered after the nonprofit began to bounce pay checks to its employees even though it thought it had money in the bank.

"An extra two- or $300,000 a year would have made a big difference," Ho aid.

"They probably would have been able to be more project manager, more community outreach and more people going out to the beaches talking to these families."

Pitolo declined comment.

Earlier this year, Waianae Community sued Pitolo and obtained a default judgement but that's not likely to collect much money.

The suit alleges that the thefts occurred over fours years and that Pitolo made dozens of unauthorized ATM withdrawals and wrote checks to herself, friends and family members, including $169,000 to her father.

The nonprofit fired her after the alleged thefts were discovered.

They also filed a police report when it first learned that about $69,000 was allegedly stolen. But the investigation stalled after the statute of limitations lapsed on some of the thefts.

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