Ex-bookkeeper charged with stealing $1.3M from nursery

Thelma Pascua-Suyat used money to pay her credit cards, mortgage

Pascua-Suyat

A former bookeeper for Ki-Hana Nursery is charged with stealing more than $1.3 million from the Kihei business by using company funds to make payments on her credit cards and to pay the mortgage on her home, according to a document filed in federal court.

Thelma Pascua-Suyat of Kahului is scheduled to be arraigned May 15 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

She is charged with wire fraud for transferring funds from the nursery’s bank account in hundreds of transactions from December 2008 to January 2016, according to the court document.

Pascua-Suyat had access to the nursery’s commercial bank account, business credit card and bookkeeping software while she was employed as a professional bookkeeper from about 2004 until her employment was terminated in January 2016.

“It was terrible what she did,” Scott Walsh, owner of Ki-Hana Nursery, said Monday. “We found out she was stealing from us for years and years and years. Some years were worse than others.”

Walsh said his father hired Pascua-Suyat after meeting her in church, where she would sit next to him.

“We trusted her; we thought she was totally honest,” Walsh said.

As the business was affected by the thefts, there was less inventory of plants and merchandise and fewer customers, Walsh said.

“We were selling out of an empty wagon,” he said. “We thought it was a recession the whole time, slowing down.”

Walsh said he sold a condominium that had been generating income to put the money into the business.

“My wife and I couldn’t even go on a vacation,” he said. “We had to save every penny we could.”

After he discovered the thefts, Walsh said the business hired attorneys and did forensic accounting before turning over documents to the FBI.

According to the information charge against her, Pascua-Suyat falsified nursery business records to indicate money was being used to pay legitimate company expenses. Instead, the money went to pay for her and her husband’s credit cards and to make her mortgage payments, according to the charge.

Business funds were used 291 times to make more than $1.1 million in payments on Pascua-Suyat’s husband’s credit card, which she was authorized to use, the document says.

Another 112 payments totaling $127,550 were made on credit cards belonging to Pascua-Suyat and her husband, the document says. The mortgage payments for her residence were made 33 times, totaling $65,754, according to the document.

In 2014, Pascua-Suyat was campaign manager for state Rep. Justin Woodson, who represents Kahului, Puunene, Old Sand Hills and Maui Lani.

At the time, Pascua-Suyat was married to the father of Woodson’s wife.

“We were attempting to get our campaign off the ground,” Woodson said Monday. “We placed her as campaign manager on paper. She never got involved in any meaningful capacity.

“Her involvement was primarily putting up yard signs or sign waving.”

He said Pascua-Suyat didn’t have access to campaign funds and she didn’t make any large donations to his campaign.

“She might have donated $25 or $50,” he said.

Court records show Pascua-Suyat and her husband were divorced in 2016.

The federal public defender representing Pascua-Suyat couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

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