By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A Kona grand jury has indicted a former employee of a Kona coffee grower for allegedly stealing cash from the company that employed him.
The nine-count indictment dated June 18 charges 40-year-old John Jason Walaskay with two counts each of first-degree theft and use of a computer in the commission of a separate crime and five counts of second-degree theft. The document states that Walaskay stole money from Kona’s Best Natural Coffee LLC on seven occasions between March 1, 2009, and April 30, 2010.
“I can tell you it’s in excess of $120,000,” said police Lt. Gerald Wike of the Kona Criminal Investigations Section when asked Thursday how much money Walaskay is alleged to have stolen. Joseph Fagundes III, a Kona attorney who represents the coffee company, on Friday called that figure “a conservative estimate.” Fagundes said that Walaskay was an accountant and comptroller for Kona’s Best Natural Coffee.
“What was discovered while he was working there, is that there are inconsistencies in the records of the accountings between what was checked in the QuickBooks and what was coming back as cancelled checks,” Fagundes said. “So in essence, what was being shown in the records was payments being made to certain creditors and vendors when, in fact, the actual checks were being made out to Mr. Walaskay.”
First-degree theft, which is theft of $20,000 or more, is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. Second-degree theft, which is theft of $300 or more, is a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Use of a computer in the commission of a separate crime is “an offense or grade, as the case may be, greater than the offense facilitated.” If convicted on all counts and sentenced to consecutive terms, Walaskay could face up to 75 years in prison.
The 40-year-old Walaskay was living in Waimea when police started investigating the case in 2010, Wike said. Fagundes said that Walaskay is no longer on the island.
“Actually, he has been located,” Fagundes said. “He’s been under surveillance by federal authorities for some time now ….”
Deputy Prosecutor Kimberly Taniyama said Friday that she didn’t know Walaskay’s whereabouts, but said that the state intends to extradite Walaskay for court proceedings “if we can find him.”
A search of court records turned up no previous criminal convictions for Walaskay in Hawaii.
A bench warrant set Walaskay’s bail at $100,000 and stipulated that Walaskay was not to make contact with the victims in the case, Brent Hight and Cathy Kleger of Koa Coffee Plantation and Fagundes. The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs website lists Hight as the agent for Kona’s Best Natural Coffee LLC, and the Hawaii Coffee Association website also lists Hight as the organization’s treasurer.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.