Na Leo TV is undertaking a management change following former CEO Stacy Higa’s guilty plea to federal embezzlement and bribery charges and the subsequent filing of a whistleblower hostile workplace complaint by an employee there.
A 13-page statement of offense, signed Aug. 19 by Higa, detailed a complicated series of transactions among Higa; co-conspirator Hanalei Aipoalani, who has also pleaded guilty; Na Leo; Makaala Solutions LLC, a business and leadership consulting company owned by three of Higa’s Na Leo employees — Assistant General Manager and Marketing Manager Micah Alameda, Grants Manager Kyle Kawano and Production Manager Matt Cordero and Kawaico Inc., an embroidery company owned by Higa and his wife at their Hilo home address.
A Na Leo employee who requested anonymity filed a workplace complaint Oct. 29 with the Na Leo board of directors and the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs’ Cable Television Division, saying the continued management by the three named managers made the employees “very uncomfortable and unsafe.”
Alameda announced he was leaving Nov. 5 on a Na Leo sports recap show, saying, “It’s been an absolute honor and privilege of my professional career,” to co-host the show.
Interim Na Leo CEO Connie Kiriu said Thursday the nonprofit’s investigation into the allegations is not finalized. The board had earlier commissioned an independent third-party investigation and audit after learning of Higa’s involvement.
“The findings of the investigation were presented to the Board and it allayed any concern of “personal profit” by any Na Leo employee beyond what was already reported in the media concerning Higa,” the Na Leo board said in a statement earlier about the first investigation.
Kiriu said Alameda left voluntarily. Alameda couldn’t be reached for comment by press-time Thursday.
The community television station has created a new position of business manager and is currently advertising to fill it. The position serves as chief financial, human resources and administrative services officer. The station also is seeking an accounting clerk.
There are no records of legal action in federal court against the three employees.
The statement of offense doesn’t specifically name the companies or the parties other than Higa and Aipoalani, but the names were ascertained by the newspaper from public records, campaign spending reports and business filings.
Higa, a former County Council chairman and mayoral candidate, faces a likely range of between 46 and 57 months in prison and a fine of up to $200,000. In his plea agreement, he pointed to the three managers as having a part in his schemes.
The statement signed by Higa says Higa asked his three Na Leo employees to create Makaala Solutions with him as a silent partner, and he had control over it. He then had Kawano create a back-dated false invoice for $270,000 and other invoices through Na Leo adding up to $845,000 of CARES Act funds based on his relationship with Aipoalani, who had been named City and County of Honolulu Department of Community Services grant administrator for coronavirus relief funding.
Makaala Solutions also received $39,962.95 in AmeriCorps money based on contracts signed by Higa, and, in turn, forwarded $25,142.10 to Kawaico Inc., for Higa’s own use. Another $4,000 was sent to Higa’s mayoral campaign account as a business donation. In addition, $20,000 was spent on Higa’s elective cosmetic dental care.
Aipoalani admitted to embezzling from AmeriCorps and agreeing to accept a bribe under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald