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Woman sentenced to five years in prison for welfare fraud

WAILUKU — Although a Kahului woman said she had learned from her past felony convictions, a judge said the defendant’s actions indicated otherwise, sentencing her to a five-year prison term for stealing thousands of dollars in welfare benefits.

Shelly Havosi, 29, was ordered to repay $11,501 to the state Department of Human Services as part of her sentence.

“If you learned from all this, I don’t understand why you keep committing crimes,” 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo said in imposing the sentence Jan. 16. “It’s just the brazenness of your actions, being so bold and continuing to commit more crimes.

“Abusing the welfare system is stealing from other people.”

Loo noted that Havosi has 15 prior felony convictions and was on probation when she committed her most recent crimes.

Havosi had pleaded no contest to second-degree theft and welfare fraud.

She collected the welfare overpayments from May 2013 to December 2014, receiving nearly $300 a month more than she was eligible for in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, said Deputy Prosecutor Jeffery Temas.

Havosi agreed that she had improperly filled out paperwork two or three times to collect more in benefits than she was entitled to.

As part of a plea agreement between the defense and prosecution recommending she be placed on probation, Havosi had agreed to make a $500 payment toward restitution before she was sentenced.

She couldn’t come up with the money after her landlord sold the house she had been renting, and she needed additional money for another rental, said Deputy Public Defender Zach Raidmae. He said Havosi had been pregnant when she broke up with her husband and failed to “keep up with the paperwork” for welfare benefits.

“The reality is she’s trying to get through extremely hard times,” he said. “I don’t think most people in this room care Shelly got more food for her children. She’s a hardworking person, a proud mother.”

Havosi said she has four children.

“Every penny of it went towards my kids,” she said.

“I did time before,” she said. “I’ve learned from my past. I’ve been on a good path, trying to show my kids different.”

Judge Loo noted that in a report prepared for an earlier sentencing, Havosi said she’d been stealing for as long as she could remember.

“A tiger doesn’t change its stripes overnight,” Loo said.

Before she was taken into custody to serve the prison term Jan. 16, Havosi asked the judge to reconsider.

“I’ve had a job for years. I don’t do drugs,” she said. “I’m a good person, your honor. I made a mistake. Please don’t punish me like that. I’m being charged for my past crimes.”

Loo agreed that the crimes were in Havosi’s past.

“I did my time for it, your honor,” Havosi said.

“And it didn’t work, did it?” Loo said.

According to the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center, Havosi was sentenced to a six-month jail term as part of five years’ probation in May 2011 for second-degree theft, fraudulent use of a credit card, unauthorized possession of confidential personal information, second-degree identity theft, first-degree theft, three counts of second-degree forgery and four counts of second-degree theft.

In July 2012, she was again sentenced for a six-month jail term as part of five years’ probation for second-degree theft, second-degree identity theft and fraudulent use of a credit card.

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

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