Welfare cheat given chance to keep theft conviction off record

The Maui News

WAILUKU — A Kahului woman was given a chance to keep a theft conviction off her record Tuesday when she provided a $500 check toward repayment of public assistance benefits.

As part of her sentence, Jovina Kaeo, 35, was placed on four years’ probation. She was ordered to pay $13,532 in restitution.

Kaeo had pleaded no contest to second-degree theft of public assistance benefits from May 1, 2015, to Feb. 28, 2017.

She didn’t report income she received while collecting the benefits.

“I hope it’s not lost on her that what she did in this case is to take from other people who genuinely needed this assistance,” said Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Martin. “That’s the unfortunate part.”

Deputy Public Defender Heather Brown said Kaeo has no prior criminal history and was working.

“The worst personally difficult thing for her is she got arrested in front of her entire family, including her children,” Brown said. “She had to look her boys in the eye and tell them what she had done. That will serve as probably the biggest deterrence of all to any further criminal activity.”

Kaeo said she has tried to help the community by organizing a back-to-school supply drive and family fun day for elementary school students.

“I have no excuses,” she said. “It is what it is. I know I was wrong. I did tell my three boys. I’m going to pay it back.”

Second Circuit Judge Peter Cahill noted that she would pay back the money to the state Department of Human Services.

“Who is the department? It’s us. It’s the people who live here,” Cahill said. “It’s the taxpayers. It’s you. It’s your husband.”

In granting Kaeo’s request for a deferral, Cahill noted that she brought a cashier’s check for $500 to court Tuesday.

“To me, that’s a huge factor,” Cahill said. “It shows that ‘I’m taking this seriously and I know I got to pay this money back.’

“I do believe the defendant has made good efforts of showing she will be crime-free in the future,” Cahill said. “She understands and acknowledges she has committed a fraud against the people of the state of Hawaii.”