A ‘big lesson’ for woman in welfare fraud, theft case

WAILUKU – A woman who didn’t report she was working while collecting welfare benefits during a six-month period last year has been ordered to repay nearly $4,000 to the state.

Susan Bugg, 52, also was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service as part of five years’ probation.

“It’s been a big lesson,” Bugg said in court Thursday. “I made a big mistake.”

At the time, Bugg had left a longtime job on the Mainland to move to Maui to pursue a relationship that didn’t work out, said her attorney, Matthew Nardi.

“She was homeless at the time,” he said, and was in an unfamiliar place.

Although she had gotten a job four days before applying for food stamp benefits, she still had bills from when she was on the Mainland and didn’t have enough money to rent an apartment on Maui, Nardi said.

“The survival mechanism kicks in,” he said.

After moving to Maui in April 2012, Bugg had gotten a job and received her first paycheck April 27, said Deputy Prosecutor Jeffery Temas. He said she applied for welfare and medical benefits on May 1, collecting thousands of dollars’ worth of benefits through October 2012.

Temas opposed Bugg’s request for a chance to keep convictions for second-degree theft and welfare fraud off her record.

“Defendant’s thefts and her fraud were neither accidental nor isolated,” Temas said. “Defendant’s criminal acts occurred not one time but over several months. Defendant’s conduct was clearly calculated.

“She chose to take advantage of the taxpaying community and legitimate public assistance recipients . . . while earning a five-figure income over that same time period.”

Nardi said Bugg, who has no prior criminal record, earned less than $20,000 during the six-month period.

Second Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza denied Bugg’s request for a chance to keep the convictions off her record.

While telling Bugg she had done “many good things in your life,” Cardoza said it was “troubling” that she had received benefits over a period of time while not reporting she was employed.

Cardoza followed a plea agreement between the defense and prosecution calling for no jail for Bugg.

In another sentencing, a 20-year-old Paia man was ordered to pay $20,362 in restitution for the theft of jewelry from relatives who had taken him into their home.

Dustin Duarte also was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service as part of five years’ probation.

Duarte was sentenced Thursday after he had earlier pleaded no contest to second-degree theft.

“We’re dealing with a young man who has a drug problem, and his family is trying to support him,” said Deputy Public Defender Annalisa Bernard.

She said Duarte was suffering from an addiction to oxycodone drugs, which he smoked, when he stole and pawned the jewelry on several occasions.

When he was confronted, he admitted to the thefts and said the reason was his drug habit, Bernard said.

Duarte’s relatives had taken him into their home in December 2011 after he had been kicked out of his parents’ home, Temas said.

“Sadly, Dustin responded to this kind act of family charity by proceeding to steal 28 pieces of jewelry,” Temas said.

He said the jewelry, which family members had accumulated over 25 years, included a necklace with a “mom” pendant, an engagement band, a man’s wedding ring, earrings and pendants and gold Hawaiian heirloom jewelry.

While he was taking responsibility for his actions, Duarte denied stealing all of the jewelry detailed in a police report, Bernard said.

Following terms of a plea agreement between the defense and prosecution, Cardoza sentenced Duarte as a first-time property offender “in the midst of addiction” who could have the charge dismissed if he complies with requirements of his probation.

Duarte was ordered to write a letter apologizing to his relatives.