EXCLUSIVE: Fired charter school head charged with theft released but must remain in HI

EXCLUSIVE: Fired charter school head charged with theft released but must remain in HI
Jeff Piontek
Jeff Piontek

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state judge ruled Friday that the fired head of Hawaii's largest charter school charged with felony theft can be released without bail, disappointing state prosecutors who asked that he post $500,000 bond.  But he was required to surrender his passport and remain in Hawaii until his trial.

Jeff Piontek entered a state courtroom Friday morning after spending a month in jail in Los Angeles, where he had been arrested because prosecutors charged him with stealing more than $150,000 from Hawaii Technology Academy, where he was head of school until being fired almost two years ago.

"There's no reason he would not want to comply with every condition of supervised release," said Marcus Sierra, Piontek's defense attorney told Judge Richard Perkins at a bail reduction hearing at Circuit Court in Honolulu Friday.

His lawyer convinced Perkins to allow Piontek to be released without bail, after a pre-trial bail report recommended his release to California, where he'd been living, since he had no prior criminal convictions or a history of fleeing prosecution.

"He is not considered to pose a danger to the community, but he is considered to be a 'moderate flight risk,'" Perkins said.

Perkins would not allow Piontek to return to Los Angeles and said he must remain on Oahu until his trial.

"We're disappointed," said Albert Cook, a deputy attorney general handling the case against Piontek.  "We believe that the bail of $500,000 was appropriate due to we believe that Mr. Piontek is a flight risk.  That he seems to do whatever he wants, regardless of the consequences."

Cook said Piontek has lied to a potential employer that he wasn't under investigation for any crime, snuck onto the HTA campus after he was instructed not to go to his school and later lied about it.

Perkins is not allowing Piontek to return to Los Angeles, where he was sharing a lease on an apartment with Ana Matsumoto, the former vice principal at Hawaii Technology Academy, who was terminated by the school in 2012.

"A lot of his trips that the state alleges were not with the school authority to places like Australia, Qatar and England, Ms. Matsumoto was also on the trips with him at school expense.  The board was not aware that Ms. Matsumoto was going with him," Cook said.

Piontek sometimes registered himself and Matsumoto at hotels as "Mr. and Mrs. Piontek," sources said.

Sierra responded to the prosecutor in court, claiming, "All these trips are going to be proven to be business trips, which were authorized in advance and certainly were done with the full awareness of the board."

Sierra called Piontek and Matsumoto "good friends" and had listed Matsumoto's husband, Kenneth, as a sponsor for Piontek in Hawaii.  But he told the judge that Kenneth Matsumoto would be unwilling to house Piontek for the long-term in Hawaii.

So Piontek will need to find a hotel room in the short run, searching for a more permanent place to live on Oahu. He must try to find a job here, something his attorney said will be difficult because of the news coverage about the theft charges.

Piontek was fired as chief operating officer of the online division of a Los Angeles-based tutoring company called Academic Advantage ten days ago, a few weeks after he was charged with felony theft.  He was terminated "because of the negative publicity" of the five felony theft charges against him, Perkins said.

Matsumoto worked with Piontek at the same unit of the company, sources said.  It's unclear whether she's still employed there but Sierra said she lives in a different Los Angeles-area apartment with her two children.

Piontek is scheduled to be back in court next week, where he's expected to plead 'not guilty' to the theft charges against him.

Prosecutors allege he stole more than $150,000 from the school by using school credit and debit cards, reimbursement checks, and purchasing gift cards for his personal use.  They claim he improperly spent school money on trips that were unauthorized by the HTA board to countries such as Germany and New Zealand and to cities like New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando and San Francisco.

Copyright 2013 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.