Judge likens repeat offender to sinking Titanic, doles out five-year prison term

WAILUKU – After being given a chance on probation about six months ago, a man was sentenced Wednesday to a five-year prison term for committing other crimes.

As a repeat offender, Raul Gonzales, 48, of Waiehu was ordered to serve at least one year and eight months of the prison term before being eligible for parole.

“When you were here roughly six months ago, you were like the Titanic. You were sinking slowly,” 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo told Gonzales. “But you gave a wonderful speech. I decided to throw you a life preserver.”

Loo had placed Gonzales on five years’ probation for second-degree robbery of a man at a Kahului beach last year.

When Gonzales was sentenced the morning of May 29 for the robbery, Loo ordered him to turn himself in at the Maui Community Correctional Center that afternoon to serve a three-month jail term as part of his probation.

The judge had allowed Gonzales to turn himself in later after he said he needed to secure a residence where he was staying and to take care of other matters.

But Gonzales didn’t turn himself in at the jail and was arrested about two weeks later, on June 12, for shoplifting from Walmart in Kahului. He also was charged with stealing a camera from Sears on April 25 and pawning it the same day.

Before his recent arrests, Gonzales had rehabilitated himself following drug arrests 20 years ago, earning a bachelor’s degree and working with offenders as a social worker, said Deputy Public Defender William “Pili” McGrath.

“For whatever reason, in the much more recent past, he resumed using drugs,” McGrath said. “How a person with his ability, which is above average, got himself into this jam is beyond my understanding.”

Gonzales said that he had been hit by a divorce and his mother’s death two years ago. He said he had been working in the kitchen at the jail and could work at a Wailuku restaurant if released.

“I know I can do probation,” he said. “I just want to go out and be productive.”

Deputy Prosecutor Kim Whitworth said that Gonzales had given a similar speech when he was sentenced in May, convincing her and the court that he would turn himself in later in the day.

“Instead, he went on a crime spree,” Whitworth said. “The only person who put himself here is himself.”

In his latest case, Gonzales had pleaded no contest to two counts of second-degree theft and third-degree theft.

“I gave you a chance, and this is how you repaid the court, by committing new offenses,” Loo said to Gonzales. “I am yanking your life preserver. You are going to prison today.”

Gonzales was ordered to pay $300 in restitution.

In other sentencings Wednesday:

* A 62-year-old Kahului woman was ordered to repay $10,113 to the state Department of Human Services in a welfare fraud case.

Charlene KinChoy had pleaded no contest to second-degree theft and welfare fraud in connection with food and nutrition benefits she received for herself and two grandchildren from October 2010 to December 2011.

A DHS investigation showed that KinChoy hadn’t reported that her husband was living in the residence and contributing to expenses.

Deputy Public Defender Jared Brickey said that KinChoy and her husband were separated and living in separate units of the same residence.

“She could have done a better job of disclosing,” Brickey said. “We’re disputing that she intentionally tried to dupe the system.”

Loo noted that KinChoy and her husband had filed joint tax returns. She said someone else could have used the benefits that went to KinChoy.

She was placed on five years’ probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.

* A 25-year-old Kahului man was placed on one year’s probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service after he was arrested for allegedly selling marijuana from his house near Maui High School.

Michael Stills had pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree promotion of a detrimental drug.

Stills was arrested April 30, 2012, when police executed a search warrant at his residence.

Brickey said Stills had a legitimate medical marijuana permit and the alleged sale was to supplement his income.

Loo said she hoped that in the future, Stills would set a good example for his infant daughter.

“The marijuana card is for personal use, not for selling marijuana, which you admitted to police,” the judge said.

She said that while his case was pending, Stills had twice tested positive for marijuana use despite his saying he used the drug only every two to three months.

As part of his probation, Stills was ordered not to consume alcohol or illegal drugs, including medical marijuana.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.