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Church thief gets probation

A 68-year-old Hilo man who stole more than $45,000 from two Big Island churches was sentenced Monday to five years probation.

Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura also ordered Edward Hanohano to 18 months in jail with credit for time served and the remainder taken under advisement if Hanohano complies with the terms of his probation. Those terms include 500 hours of community service and restitution to the church, Hoomana Naauau o Hawaii, of $45,512. The judge allowed Hanohano to pay restitution at the rate of $50 a month.

“How long will it take for him to pay it back at $50 a month?” the Rev. Bettina Recca, the church’s president, asked rhetorically after the hearing.

Hanohano pleaded guilty to a single-count of first-degree theft on March 7, and could have been sentenced to 10 years in prison, a fine of $25,000, or both. In a deal with prosecutors, Hanohano would have received a deferred acceptance of his guilty plea — which means his felony conviction would be erased after completion of probation — had he given the church a cashier’s check for $10,000 before or during Monday’s hearing.

Hanohano’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Zachary Wingert, told the judge Hanohano didn’t have the money but asked that his client be granted the deferral.

Deputy Prosecutor Joseph Lee objected to a deferred plea.

Nakamura didn’t rule on the deferral request.

Church officials said Hanohano, the former secretary of Ke Kilohana oka Malamalama on Manono Street in Hilo, used a debit card to steal from accounts for that church and Ka Mauloa oka Malamalama church in Kurtistown. According to the indictment, the thefts occurred between Nov. 30, 2005, and Dec. 2, 2010.

Both churches are affiliated with Hoomana Naauao o Hawaii, the first independent Christian denomination in Hawaii.

Recca told the judge Hanohano “should be held responsible for his shocking and devastating actions.” She said Hanohano “took advantage of our unwavering trust” and she and the statewide church board “had no knowledge of his acts of intimidation and imposition, through which he was able to gain control of the bank accounts.”

Recca said Hanohano, who is no longer a church member, admitted to taking the money but “showed absolutely no remorse.”

“What I found even more appalling were Mr. Hanohano’s last efforts to take as much money as he could, in the thousands of dollars, when he realized that the audit would implicate him and the accounts would be closed.”

Kanoe Cheek, the statewide church secretary who conducted the audit, told the judge Hanohano seemed “resigned that Hoomana had found out about the theft but angry that we stopped him.”

“Throughout the years, when the kahu (pastor) of Ke Kilohana oka Malamalama wanted to fix things in the church such as the windows, pews, etc., Mr. Hanohano would always say, ‘No money.’ All the time it was because he was taking the money for himself,” she said.

As a church leader, Cheek said, Hanohano had a duty “to protect the church” and shouldn’t be allowed a deferred plea.

“He should have a record of what he did to the members of Ke Kilohana oka Malamalama … and the entire organization,” she said.

Asked by Nakamura if he wished to address the court, Hanohano simply said, “No.” He told the judge in March that he took the money to pay “my rent and my bills.”

“We still love him, and God has forgiven him,” Recca said afterwards.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune- herald.com.

 

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