WAILUKU - The owner of a Haiku business said the theft of his inventory affected his life's work and left his company in debt, as a woman was sentenced last week for the theft.
Joana Johnston, 58, of Makawao was given a chance to keep a second-degree theft conviction off her record if she follows court requirements for the next five years.
She was ordered not to use the business name of The Essential Place Inc., which does business as Scents of Knowing. Johnston also was ordered not to sell, give away or dispose of any property from the business.
With the amount of restitution she owes in dispute, 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza set a hearing on the matter for Dec. 6.
During Johnston's sentencing hearing Thursday, defense attorney Philip Lowenthal said she has no prior criminal record. He said Johnston, who had pleaded no contest to a reduced charge, doesn't think she did anything improper.
While Johnston and her attorney indicated that the dispute between her and business owner Jack Chaitman was a civil matter, Deputy Prosecutor Lewis Littlepage said that changed when Johnston "chose to take the law into her own hands."
"She chose instead to do burglary and theft," Littlepage said.
Chaitman, who had previously been in a relationship with Johnston, had allowed her to live in a house on his property for two and a half years.
On March 31, 2011, he returned home after being on the Mainland and found nearly all the furniture and personal items had been taken from his residence, along with the key to his business in a climate-controlled, U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic facility on the property. The facility had been entered and his entire stock of essential oils was stolen. Chaitman also learned that Johnston had filed a temporary restraining order against him, at first preventing him from going onto his property.
Speaking in court Thursday, Chaitman said Johnston "took everything," including his inventory of essential oils he had worked to distill and develop over nearly 30 years.
"She completely stopped my business," he said. "She took all my inventory, all my packaging, everything that would be needed to have my business continue.
"Emotionally, it was difficult for me. It's very difficult for me to work wondering what is my future. This inventory represented my life's work. My company still is in debt."
Chaitman said his essential oils are the most expensive in the world and have been used by fragrance companies, as well as doctors and hospitals.
After telling police she took "maybe 60 bottles" of essential oils, Johnston returned and police recovered hundreds of bottles, although they were damaged and made worthless because they hadn't been properly stored, Littlepage said. He said Chaitman hadn't gotten back things that had belonged to his late wife and grandmother, including antique silverware and a rolling pin.
Although Johnston earlier had been ordered by the court not to sell any of the essential oils, Littlepage said an affidavit by India Arie indicated that Johnston sold numerous scented oils, including Chaitman's signature blends, to the Grammy-winning singer and songwriter while she was on Maui from March to May this year.
Johnston was charged with two counts each of second-degree burglary and first-degree theft. She had pleaded no contest to the reduced second-degree theft charge, with the prosecution dismissing the other charges in exchange for her pleas.
She agreed to pay restitution for all of the counts, with Littlepage saying the prosecution's calculation of the restitution was more than $500,000.
Lowenthal said the defense would be disputing the remarks by the prosecution. "They are indeed controverted," Lowenthal said.
He said that Chaitman was listed as president and Johnston as vice president of the company on a Bank of Hawaii signature card.
Littlepage said state business registration records for the company show that Johnston has never been an officer in the business.
As part of her sentence, Johnston was ordered to have no contact with Chaitman and to undergo a mental health evaluation.
After the sentencing, Chaitman said he appreciated the work Littlepage did on the case.
Chaitman also said he was impressed by Cardoza's handling of the case.
"I really felt like he cared and listened," Chaitman said. "This gives me such a good feeling, renews my belief in the justice system."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.