WAILUKU - A Pukalani woman was placed on five years' probation Thursday after she was convicted of stealing more than $20,000 from a business where she had been working as an independent commissioned travel agent.
A July 17 hearing is scheduled in 2nd Circuit Court to determine the amount of restitution owed by Clarice Ranis, 45.
While Deputy Prosecutor Lewis Littlepage said evidence showed that more than $180,000 was stolen during a nearly two-year period, defense attorney William Sloper said it was less.
Ranis had pleaded no contest to first-degree theft from Hawaiian Travel Club from March 2008 to December 2009. In exchange, the prosecution dismissed 12 counts each of second-degree identity theft and fraudulent use of a credit card.
A plea agreement called for no jail for Ranis, who asked for a chance to keep the conviction off her record.
Sloper said Ranis has no prior criminal record and had "no criminal intent."
He said the problem began when Ranis couldn't obtain a travel package for a client at the price that was promised.
"She started to use the next customer's credit card information to pay for the prior client's travel," he said. "The client whose credit card she used was promised a travel deal as well, so she would use the next client's credit card to pay for that trip, and so on and so on and so on.
"This was not a situation where it was her intent to defraud anybody, steal from anybody. This was simply a situation where she screwed up at work and took the wrong route to fix it.
"It was simply a lack of sophistication and judgment in fixing a mistake she had made."
Second Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza noted that none of the transactions listed in police reports exceeded the $20,000 level required for a first-degree theft charge. He asked Sloper when the first transaction occurred and who the client was.
"We don't know," Sloper replied.
Littlepage disputed the defense account of what happened.
"We have a person who, over a number of years, has just bilked this company all they could," Littlepage said. "There was a great deal of criminal intent in this case."
He said there were 50 to 60 incidents of theft, with Hawaiian Travel Club losing more than $25,000 in one incident Oct. 29, 2009, the last day Ranis worked for the business.
Evidence presented to a Maui County grand jury that indicted Ranis showed that more than $180,000 was stolen in the scheme, Littlepage said.
"This was years of plotting, years of deception," said Paul Kramer, who was general manager of the travel business owned by his wife, Cynthia Kress-Kramer. "This was taking a man's $4,000 who had cancer and was dying and couldn't go on a trip, and putting it in her pocket and making believe he didn't pay the money."
He said Ranis returned the $4,000 after being told the victim and Kramer were going to the Maui Police Department to report what happened.
"This was a calculated, very intelligent, maybe even brilliant accumulation of theft," Kramer said. "This was not a casual trying to cover up one incident."
Kramer said he spent a year documenting the thefts included in the charge against Ranis.
The scheme surfaced, Kramer said, after a Maui County employee who also booked personal travel with the company checked on the status of a ticket for future travel and questioned why the reservation wasn't showing up.
After checking on another set of reservations, the county - which had accounted for a large share of the company's business - stopped making travel arrangements with the company. A check by the county Department of Finance later showed that the county had received all the travel it paid for, Littlepage said.
But Kramer said the damage had been done.
"This is not just a simple mistake," Kramer said. "This has also led to losing the county's business, losing the reputation of the company, going out of business as a result of it."
The company went out of business at the end of 2009.
Littlepage opposed Ranis' request to keep the conviction off her record.
"She has profited quite handsomely from her actions against this company," he said.
Cardoza denied Ranis' request, saying the offense is "very serious."
"It does involve a continuing course of conduct, multiple thefts spanning a period of roughly two years," Cardoza said.
"It is absolutely a terrible thing that this happened," Kramer said after the sentencing. "It's a terrible thing for her, for her family. It's a terrible thing for us, for our family."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.