Higa sentenced to 46 months in prison

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Former County Councilman and Na Leo TV CEO Stacy Higa was sentenced Tuesday to 46 months in prison for embezzling from AmeriCorps and also for offering a bribe in return for federal coronavirus relief funds.

Higa pleaded guilty in October 2021, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to embezzlement and bribery.

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The announcement of his sentencing was made by Matthew M. Graves, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Deborah Jeffrey, Inspector General of AmeriCorps, and Steven Merrill, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Honolulu Field Office.

“The citizens of Hawai’i deserve a government free of corruption. Stacy Higa’s actions undermine the respect and reputation of all public officials who have the responsibility to uphold the public’s trust,” Merrill said in a statement.

From June 2011 until May 2020, Higa, 58, a former Hawaii County Council chairman and mayoral candidate, served as the executive director of the Hawaii Commission for National and Community Service, the state service commission responsible for administering AmeriCorps programs in Hawaii.

From August 2020 through October 2020, Higa offered to provide financial benefits to Hanalei Aipoalani, 43, who has also been sentenced, in order to influence the approval of Higa’s applications for two grants totaling $845,000 under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Higa then directed an employee to draft and submit false and backdated invoices under the grants.

“This Defendant abused his position of trust when he robbed AmeriCorps, a critical federal program designed to help the most vulnerable Americans,” said Graves. “His attempt to obtain CARES Act funds through bribery showed a shocking disregard for the critical importance of the program.”

From February 2018 through his resignation from the commission, Higa embezzled more than $38,000 in AmeriCorps funds by signing and authorizing contracts and purchase orders between the Hawaii Commission and two companies that he owned or controlled, without disclosing his control of the companies, the government said.

“Stacy Higa exploited his position of trust to steal AmeriCorps funds from vulnerable communities and schemed to deny his neighbors money needed for pandemic relief,” said Jeffrey of AmeriCorps. “Today’s sentence holds him accountable, reflecting the gravity of his offenses.”

Higa spent the embezzled funds on personal expenses including paying for approximately $20,000 of elective aesthetic dental care.

Following his prison term, Higa will be placed on three years of supervised release. He is required to pay $38,642 in restitution and an identical amount in a forfeiture money judgment. He also will be required to perform 200 hours of community service.

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