Charter school focuses on future after inundation, alleged embezzlement

  • Kua O Ka La Public Charter School Director Susie Osborne in a July 2018 Tribune-Herald file photo.

The founder and director of Kua O Ka La Public Charter School said Wednesday the school’s administration and governing board can’t comment on a federal embezzlement complaint against the school’s former financial officer “as it is still pending court action.”

In a statement, Susie Osborne said school officials want to reassure the school’s families and community that “the outpouring of donations and support for our school during the lava flow event went immediately to student support and were not impacted by this situation.”

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The charter school, which moved to Hilo after its Puna campus was destroyed by lava in July 2018 “is focused on healing from the tragic loss of our beautiful campus and surrounding areas of our beloved community,” Osborne said.

A complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Honolulu charged Kelaukila “Ua” Estabilio with wire fraud for allegedly embezzling $628,835.13 from the school between December 2012 and January 2019.

According to the document, Estabilio wasn’t authorized to sign school checks but had access to all the school’s banking and financial information and used interstate wire transfers from Bank of Hawaii to pay off her Capital One credit cards.

The complaint states Estabilio used the school funds “for her and her family’s personal expenses without authorization to do so.” Estabilio allegedly falsified the school’s Quickbook financial records to conceal the embezzlement.

According to the document, Estabilio continued to steal from the school after its campus was inundated, and a wire transfer of $4,225.12 on Oct. 11, 2018, from the school’s bank account went to pay a Capital One credit card bill racked up by Estabilio.

If Estabilio is convicted, the government will seek forfeiture as allowed by law, “of any and all property, real or personal that constitutes or is derived from the proceeds traceable” from the alleged embezzlement, the complaint states.

Osborne said most of the missing funds have been recovered from the credit card company.

“Despite the extensive safeguards the school had in place including annual audits, this intervening criminal act occurred,” Osborne said, and described it as “the act of one person only.”

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“We have moved forward in the spirit of collaboration with our many partners who support our short- and long-term stabilization, our teachers come every day ready to teach with aloha, and our students arrive on campus able to learn and progress toward their academic goals,” she said.

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

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