Financial officer admits to stealing $628,000 from Big Island school destroyed by lava

Published: Feb. 5, 2020 at 1:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former financial officer for a Big Island charter school that was destroyed by lava during the 2018 Kilauea eruption pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal wire fraud.

Kelaukila Estabilio, 39, admitted in court that between December 2012 and January 2019, she stole more than $628,000 from the Kua O Ka La Public Charter School.

She said she stole the money in monthly increments to pay for her credit card charges and to fund travel expenses for her family members.

Federal prosecutors said she falsified the school’s financial records to cover up the thefts.

“It’s heartbreaking and unthinkable, that someone would steal from the children and the school," said Susie Osborne, head of the school. “It’s been so emotional and traumatic, trauma on top of trauma.”

In court, Estabilio made no comment when asked if she regretted taking money meant for students.

The Kua O Ka La Public Charter School’s Puna campus was destroyed by lava in July 2018, forcing it to relocate to Hilo and putting the future of the school in jeopardy.

School officials say the series of events that followed the eruption appears to have escalated the thefts.

But many of the larger thefts, according to Osborne, were difficult to detect because they occurred after the school’s financial records were destroyed by lava.

She said Capital One has refunded the school for money Estabilio stole to pay for her credit card bills.

“We want to assure everyone that none of the community donated funds for the lava relief were touched by the situation and that we were able to recover the majority of the funds," Osborne said.

Estabilio faces up to 20 years in prison for the wire fraud charge, but will likely get less in the plea deal. Sentencing is set for May 19.

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