No jail time for former principal who stole from charter school

No jail time for former principal who stole from charter school
Image: Hawaii News Now
Image: Hawaii News Now
Image: Hawaii News Now
Image: Hawaii News Now

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The former principal of a charter school in Waipahu won't be serving any time behind bars for using the school as his personal piggy bank.

When Jeff Piontek was head of Hawaii Technology Academy, he was accused taking more than $152,000 in school funds. He was fired from the school in December 2011.

Piontek pleaded no contest to theft charges for using $136,000 in school money. In a deal, he pleaded guilty to another theft charge for using nearly $17,000 to renovate his apartment. Circuit Court Judge Glenn Kim sentenced him to pay restitution and four years probation.

"We feel like it sends the wrong message to people that might consider this, that if you steal from a school and you get caught, your sentence just may be probation and pay back what you stole," said Deputy Attorney General Albert Cook.

According to the attorney general's office, Piontek's spending spree included:

  • $6,142 -- Airline tickets for himself and his vice principal to Qatar
  • $5,642 -- Club Paradise Gentlemen's Club, Las Vegas
  • $4,628 -- Seven-day stay at Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia
  • $2,412 -- Round trip tickets to mainland for son and daughter
  • $2,230 -- Round trip tickets to Sydney, Australia
  • $2,287 -- Cell phones and plans for wife and children

"We're outraged and appalled that an individual who steals from a school, who steals from children to the tune of about $150,000 is not getting any prison or jail time," said state Senate Vice President Will Espero.

The judge also ruled that Piontek pay the restitution at the rate of $200 a month. At that rate, it will take him more than 63 years, or until the year 2079, to pay off the debt.

Hawaii Technology Academy's current administration said the school has had clean financial audits since the 2012 school year, after Piontek's departure. but his criminal act still has a negative impact on the school.

"A repayment amount of $200 a month ... will not have a significant impact on the school's current need for facilities, student academic materials and faculty support," HTA Executive Director Leigh Fitzgerald said in an email.

"If I were a judge, I might have ruled that way," said Rep. Karl Rhoads, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. "But they certainly were within their legal rights to do so."

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