Former Olelo executive, city official sentenced to prison for embezzlement and bribery

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Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 4:13 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 30, 2021 at 7:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former city official and executive of Olelo public access TV was sentenced Wednesday to nearly four years in prison for embezzlement of public funds and bribery.

Hanalei Aipoalani had pleaded for mercy from the judge, claiming his remorse and his Native Hawaiian ancestry should be taken into account in sentencing.

Aipoalani was an HR director and vice president at Olelo when he redirected more than $500,000 to himself and his wife, Angelita.

Prosecutors in Washington offered photos from Instagram accounts of the couple showing off a rented Ferrari, first-class travel and expensive meals to describe their lifestyle in Hawaii.

Aipoalani also admitted to a scheme to take bribes when he was a city official in charge of CARES Act funding.

Court documents indicated the bribe would come from Stacy Higa, a former Hawaii Island councilman and CEO of the Big Island public access channel, which was raided by federal authorities in March.

Higa has not been charged.

Prosecutors obtained text messages describing their plan to form shell companies with their wives.

In his letter apologizing, Aipoalani cited his anger at former Olelo CEO and city Managing Director Roy Amemiya.

“I am terribly sorry for having allowed my being passed up for promotion to negatively impact my attitude and behavior towards my duties and responsibilities,” said Aipoalani.

“There is no excuse for what I did. I was ashamed and angry that I had been passed over.”

He also said he’s already been punished: “I was publicly shamed. It has been a difficult time plagued with public ridicule, loss of status, loss of face and rightfully loss of employment and income.”

His attorney doubled-down on that saying, “‘Loss of face’ is a grave punishment for Mr. Aipoalani. In the Asian-Pacific Island culture the collective is dominant over the individual. We ask the court to consider this fundamental cultural factor.”

Despite the pleas, Judge Reggie Walton was unmoved, sentencing Aipoalani to 46 months in federal prison and ordering more than $500,000 in restitution and a civil penalty.

Aipoalani’s wife also pleaded guilty in the scheme. She is scheduled to be sentenced at a later date.

No one involved in the case was willing to be interviewed after the sentencing.

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