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Woman must repay $70,000 in illegal welfare benefits

WAILUKU — A Makawao woman who said she was raising four children, including two whose father had left her, was ordered to repay more than $70,000 in welfare benefits she collected over a five-year period.

Mahealani Naauao, 37, received the financial assistance, child care assistance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits from June 2011 to December 2016, allegedly while not reporting $467,108 in earnings by someone else in the household during that period, said Deputy Prosecutor Jeffery Temas.

Naauao filled out at least 12 applications and went through six interviews to receive the assistance, which increased to a high of $1,307 a month in April 2014 and continued at various levels, Temas said.

While Naauao said she wasn’t always living in the home of her boyfriend, who was earning the income, 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo said a state Department of Human Services investigation indicated otherwise.

“Neighbors saw you and your kids living there, saw you unloading groceries,” Loo said.

She said Naauao listed the Ulele Street address on school forms she filled out for the children.

Defense attorney David Fanelli said Naauao was now working part time.

“She essentially has no record, and she cares for four children,” he said, in asking that she be given a chance to keep convictions off her record.

“My ex, who hasn’t been part of my children’s life, left me with the two kids to raise,” Naauao said in court. “It just really hurts me to see me standing here knowing I had to do what I had to do to take care of what I needed to do.”

Fanelli said the father of two of Naauao’s children owes her more than $40,000 in child support.

“She understands that she needs to make good on this,” he said. “She knows what she did is wrong.”

Judge Loo granted Naauao’s request for a chance to keep convictions for first-degree theft and welfare fraud off her record if she complies with court requirements for the next five years.

Naauao also was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service, as part of her sentence imposed Oct. 24. She was ordered to pay $70,609 in restitution.

“I hope you’re motivated to make positive changes for yourself and your children,” Loo said.