By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The former executive chef of a landmark Kailua-Kona restaurant is accused of stealing more than $20,000 from the eatery.
On Feb. 11, a Kona grand jury indicted 33-year-old Laine Uchida of first-degree theft and falsifying business records. The document states that the alleged offenses occurred between January and August 2011 at Huggo’s.
Deputy Prosecutor Kimberly Taniyama declined to answer exactly how much money Uchida was alleged to have taken, only that it was “over $20,000” — which is the legal threshold for first-degree theft.
“It was just money, and it was (taken) over the course of a series of months,” Taniyama said Friday. “… I’m not really gonna get into the specifics of it ….”
Eric von Platen Luder, Huggo’s owner, said that Uchida was executive chef at the waterfront seafood restaurant for “about a year-and-a-half.” Uchida was previously a sous chef for the renowned chef Alan Wong at Hualalai Grill, and owned a local-style plate lunch restaurant, Kona Mix Plate in Kopiko Plaza, which has closed. According to von Platen Luder, Uchida was dismissed following an investigation.
“We really try to encourage our chefs to buy from local farmers who don’t necessarily have the ordering and accounts payable and accounts receivable system,” von Platen Luder said when asked how Uchida gained access to the company’s funds. “So a lot of our little truck farmers who are all over this side of the island who grow specialty crops operate on a cash basis. So Huggo’s has always wanted to support them, so we buy as much from the local truck farmers and local fisherman as we can. That’s what we’re known for.”
von Platen Luder described Uchida, a 1997 Kealakehe High School graduate who started his culinary career by volunteering in the kitchen his grandfather ran at Teshima’s Restaurant, as a “an extremely talented cook.” He also declined to answer how much money was allegedly stolen, but described it as “significant.”
“The amount of money was a big setback, especially because it comes at a time of a very poor economy and in the middle of a recession,” von Platen Luder said. “We have other vendors who need to be paid and it was significant. It was a bummer.”
A bench warrant set Uchida’s bail at $2,500, and orders Uchida to stay away from Huggo’s and to have no contact with von Platen Luder, Donna Woolley, the restaurant’s accountant, or Alika Desha, a retired Honolulu Police Department detective and vice president of Elite Security, who conducted Huggo’s internal investigation.
First-degree theft is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and falsifying business records is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
A check of court records turned up no prior felony convictions for Uchida.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.