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Former public official, Na Leo TV executive pleads guilty to embezzlement, bribery

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 1:08 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 13, 2021 at 3:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former public official from Hilo pleaded guilty Wednesday in an embezzlement and bribery case.

Stacy Higa, 58, is the former CEO of Na Leo TV on Hawaii Island, a public access station. He admitted in federal court to embezzling more than $38,000 from AmeriCorps. He also admitted to offering a bribe in return for grants under coronavirus aid.

Also tied to the case was Hanalei Aipoalani, who was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for embezzlement of public funds and bribery.

Following Higa’s guilty plea, he now faces up to more than four years behind bars, and a fine of up to $200,000. His guilty plea requires him to pay over $38,600 in restitution to AmeriCorps and an identical amount in a forfeiture money judgment.

Higa is set to be sentenced in Jan. 2022.

“This defendant has admitted taking money from programs that were designed to help the most vulnerable Americans,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Phillips. “The United States Department of Justice will aggressively prosecute and seek to hold accountable those individuals who choose to abuse their positions of power to enrich themselves at the cost of the American people.”

Inspector General Jeffrey of AmeriCorps added, “Again and again, Stacy Higa betrayed his neighbors, the people of Hawaii, and American taxpayers to serve his greed and vanity by embezzling funds set aside to help communities in need.”

The investigation found that Higa, a former Hawaii County councilmember and mayoral candidate, embezzled the funds during his time as Executive Director of a state commission responsible for dispersing the federal money.

Prosecutors said he approved contracts and purchase orders between the state commission and two companies he operated without disclosing his role with them. He then spent the money on personal expenses including about $20,000 of elective aesthetic dental care.

“Our communities place great trust and responsibility in our public figures. Stacy Higa ultimately betrayed this trust when he abused his power to embezzle federal funds and participate in bribery,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Merrill. “The FBI will not tolerate these crimes and will hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.”

[Read a related report: Hawaii Island public access television CEO on leave; fraud investigation deepens]

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