Hilo woman gets five years in prison for stealing $629K from school

The former financial officer of Kua O Ka La Public Charter School who admitted she embezzled $628,835 from the school throughout a seven-year period was sentenced to five years in prison.

Kelaukila “Ua” Estabilio, 40, of Hilo pleaded guilty in February in U.S. District Court in Honolulu to a single count of wire fraud.


Estabilio, who made a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, was sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson.

Watson imposed a sentence that was harsher than suggested by the sentencing guidelines.

During the sentencing hearing, Watson characterized Estabilio’s conduct as “reprehensible,” and driven by “greed” and a sense of “entitlement.”

He noted that Estabilio’s scheme was revealed ultimately because of the careful attention to detail by staff at the Hilo charter school, not a change of heart by Estabilio.

In addition to imprisonment, Watson also imposed three years of supervised release, restitution and criminal forfeiture.

Estabilio worked for the charter school — which is now in Hilo after its lower Puna campus was inundated by lava in July 2018 during the eruption of Kilauea volcano — from 2006 to January 2019. She was not authorized to sign the school’s checks but had access to all the school’s financial and accounting information.

According to the plea document, from 2012 until January 2019, Estabilio “knowingly devised a scheme to defraud by taking and using funds from the school for her” and used the embezzled money “to pay for her family’s travel and other personal day-to-day expenses.”

Estabilio used the charter school’s funds to pay off personal bills for extensive interisland and mainland travel; personal care, such as nail salons; pet veterinary care; retail purchases, such as stores including Victoria’s Secret and Zales; entertainment, such as Bruno Mars tickets, MMA, Netflix and iTunes; living expenses; and restaurant bills.

To cover her tracks, Estabilio “made materially false representations by falsifying the school’s QuickBooks financial records,” the document states.


According to the document, Estabilio charged her family’s and her personal expenses on her Capital One credit cards and paid the bills by wire transfers from Bank of Hawaii accounts belonging to the school and its fundraising arm, Ho‘oulu Lahui.

At least one unauthorized wire transfer occurred after the school’s campus was destroyed.