Ex-Hawaii official pleads guilty to embezzlement, bribery
HONOLULU (AP) — A former Hawaii County council member pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling more than $38,000 while serving as executive director of a state commission that administers community service programs.
Stacy Higa spent the money on personal expenses, including $20,000 in “elective aesthetic dental care,” U.S. prosecutors said.
From February 2018 through his resignation in May 2020 as executive director of the Hawaii Commission for National and Community Service, he embezzled money from AmeriCorps, a program for volunteers who receive stipends to work in vulnerable and marginalized communities, prosecutors said.
He also offered a bribe in return for grants from federal coronavirus pandemic relief funds, prosecutors said.
Higa, who is also the former CEO of Na Leo TV on the Big Island, pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to one count embezzlement and bribery. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January.
Prosecutors said Higa offered financial benefits to Hanalei Aipoalani, who administered the relief funds for Honolulu.
Aipoalani, who previously pleaded guilty to embezzling from AmeriCorps and agreeing to accept a bribe under the CARES Act, was sentenced in June to 46 months in prison.
Higa and Aipoalani discussed opening companies with their wives as principals to launder the money, prosecutors said.
As part of a plea agreement, Higa admitted that he expected to receive at least $250,000 in profit from the bribery involving the relief funds, prosecutors said.
The U.S. government provided pandemic relief money to states and counties under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as CARES.