LIHUE — A Kapaa man was sentenced Thursday to 30 days in jail for stealing over $25,000 from a nonprofit foundation set up to fund a local elementary charter school.
Criminal charges were brought against Joseph Figaroa, 38, in 2016, after representatives of Alaka‘i O Kaua‘i Public Charter School contacted the county prosecuting attorney’s office, accusing Figaroa of writing checks totaling more than $50,000 to himself and his business associates using a bank account that held funds allocated for the school.
In addition to the month-long jail sentence, Figaroa will have to serve four years probation and was ordered to pay the school $26,089 in restitution, according to Kauai County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar. The judge denied Figaroa’s request to take the felony conviction off his record once he completed probation.
“We think the ultimate resolution was fair,” Kollar said Thursday, explaining that a more severe jail term was unlikely, given the fact that Figaroa was a first-time, nonviolent offender. Kollar also said he was pleased with the amount of restitution awarded to the school and pledged to enforce the court’s order.
“We hope this sends a message to folks out there thinking about defrauding our kids,” he said.
Figaroa originally pleaded not guilty to first-degree theft but reached a deal with prosecutors in January, agreeing to plead no contest and pay the victims restitution in exchange for a reduced charge and leniency. He faced a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a $10,000 fine, but prosecutors agreed to ask the judge for a jail term not to exceed a year.
For Dr. Kani “Dr. B.” Blackwell, one of the founders of the defrauded school, the sentence was “a slap in the face.”
Blackwell, an adjunct professor with the University of Hawaii, had been in charge of overseeing the finances of an organization set up to raise money for the charter school, then still in conception.
According to Blackwell, Figaroa volunteered to act as treasurer for the nonprofit. She agreed to let him do so, but later became suspicious of Figaroa when he began concealing the details of the organization’s bank transactions, having financial statements sent first to his office and later his home.
Blackwell said that in four months — from mid-May to mid-September 2016 — Figaroa was able to clear 39 checks, transferring funds meant for school supplies and other educational necessities into his personal bank account or using the money to cover the operating costs of a business he owns and operates.
Of the $50,538 worth of withdrawals, Blackwell said Figaroa “redeposited” about $20,000 and paid back about $6,000, leaving the nonprofit’s account short about $25,000.
Blackwell attended Figaroa’s sentencing Thursday, along with about 10 other people affiliated with the school, in hopes of closing the book on a three-year episode she said has been “very stressful and aggravating.”
“It just seems unfair,” Blackwell said in an interview Thursday afternoon. Blackwell said she understood why Figaroa’s sentence was relatively light but still feels he got off easy.
“I have never seen any remorse expressed by Mr. Figaroa and I fear he is still a danger to our community,” she said.
Blackwell said now she is just glad the process is over and hopes to move on.
“I am letting it go,” she said. “There are other problems on this island that I need to put my energy toward.”
Figaroa’s public defense attorney could not be reached for comment. Figaroa was taken into custody immediately after sentencing and will spend the next 30 days at Kauai Community Correctional Facility.