Mayor Wright theft eviction reversed
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State housing officials are finding that it's harder to evict a man for theft than to convict him of the crime.
Back in 2012, Fetu Kolio, the former president of the Mayor Wright Homes Tenant Association, pleaded guilty to stealing $1,400 from the project. He was later evicted for engaging in criminal activity, which is barred under his rental agreement.
But on Wednesday, the state Supreme Court overturned the eviction, saying the rental agreement only refers to criminal activity that threatens the health and safety at the project.
"I'm a little perplexed (with the decision)," said state Rep. John Mizuno, Vice Speaker of the House.
"You have a legal conviction of a Class C felony of a person who embezzled $1,400 from the public housing association. However, you did not have a legal eviction."
Kolio's lawyer said the Supreme Court got it right.
Attorney Philip Miyoshi said the rules on criminal activity were specifically designed to deal with drug dealing and gang violence in the projects, not white-collar crimes.
"Mr. Kolio admits that he made a wrong decision. He paid for that decision but clearly that was not a basis for evicting under the lease agreement," he said.
Miyoshi attorney said he will ask the state to allow Kolio to return to Mayor Wright. He's also considering a lawsuit for damages.
The 48-year-old Kolio is a longtime tenant and a former resident activist at Mayor Wright.
He was instrumental in getting the state to fix the project's longstanding maintenance problems and was one of the initial plaintiffs who sued state housing officials over unsanitary conditions at the housing project.
That suit was recently settled with the state paying $350,000 to tenants.
According to court records, Kolio pleaded guilty to stealing money meant to be used for tenant vocational programs and other training programs. He served a 30-day jail sentence and was ordered to pay back the money.
The Hawaii Public Housing Authority, which oversees Mayor Wright, then evicted Kolio for violating his rental agreement that bars criminal activity.
But in its ruling, the high court ruled that the HPHA failed to show how the theft threatened the health and safety at Mayor Wright.
Housing authorities have since tightened up the loophole but Mizuno wants lawmakers to go further.
"The legislature could pass a law that under public housing if there's any fraudulent or improper or unreasonable behavior you can be evicted," Mizuno said.
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