Hawaiian Non-Profit Executive Pleads Guilty to Embezzling Over $500,000 from AmeriCorps and Agreeing to Receive a Bribe for Administering CARES Act Grants
WASHINGTON – Hanalei Aipoalani, 42, of Waianae, Hawaii, pled guilty in federal court today to embezzling more than $500,000 from AmeriCorps and to agreeing to accept a bribe for the administration of grants under the CARES Act.
The announcement was made by Channing D. Phillips, Acting United States Attorney for the District of Columbia; Eli S. Miranda, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Honolulu Field Office; and Deborah Jeffrey, Inspector General of AmeriCorps.
Aipoalani pled guilty to embezzlement and agreeing to take a bribe. Both charges carry a statutory maximum of 10 years and financial penalties. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, Aipoalani faces a likely recommended sentence of between 70 and 87 months in prison. The Honorable Reggie B. Walton took the plea and scheduled sentencing for June 24, 2021.
“The United States Department of Justice will prosecute, to the fullest extent of the law, those individuals who choose to abuse their positions of power to enrich themselves at the cost of the American people,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Phillips.
“The defendant conspired to enrich himself with taxpayer dollars intended to support at-risk communities in Hawai’i, he victimized legitimate volunteers and others by stealing their identities to perpetrate multiple fraud schemes, and he submitted falsified documentation and certifications to the government, all to the detriment of their community. Our investigation also disrupted an ongoing scheme to steal much-needed pandemic relief funds. I commend U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their partnership on this case,” said Deborah Jeffrey, Inspector General of AmeriCorps
“Programs such as AmeriCorps are designed to impact the nation in the most positive ways. Their goal is to help others and to meet the critical needs of the communities they serve”, said Special Agent in Charge Eli S. Miranda. “AmeriCorps trusted Hanalei Aipoalani with their mission in the State of Hawai’i and were ultimately betrayed. Aipoalani exploited his position and intentionally stole funds meant for the betterment of the community for his own selfish entitlements. The FBI will never stand for this and will enthusiastically identify and pursue anyone who violates the public’s trust.”
AmeriCorps is a federally funded network of national service programs that address critical community needs like increasing academic achievement, mentoring youth, fighting poverty, sustaining national parks, preparing for disasters, and more. AmeriCorps’ national service members commit to service for a set period of time, usually a year, in exchange for a living allowance, funding to be used for college tuition, and other benefits.
From December 2014 through May 2019, Aipoalani embezzled more than $527,000 from a non-profit that hosted an AmeriCorps program, by submitting false claims for payments to AmeriCorps members and directing those payments into his own bank accounts and by creating fraudulent invoices from non-profits for reimbursement by AmeriCorps. As part of his embezzlement, Aipoalani used at least nine inactive or former AmeriCorps’ members’ names, without their knowledge or consent, to fraudulently claim living allowances and other payments, which he then diverted to his own use.
As part of his plea, Aipoalani admitted to conspiring with his wife, Angelita Aipoalani, to enroll Angelita Aipoalani as an AmeriCorps member, even though she did not perform AmeriCorps service activities, and to cause a second non-profit to pay Angelita Aipoalani more than $69,000 for no compensable work. Aipoalani also admitted to engaging in a scheme to fraudulently obtain AmeriCorps education awards for Angelita Aipoalani.
Angelita Aipoalani has been separately charged with conspiring to embezzle from Americorps.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law in or about March 2020, provided financial relief to individuals, businesses, states, and localities suffering the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other relief programs, the CARES Act created a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund ("CRF") to be distributed to states, localities, and tribal governments to support expenditures incurred due to COVID-19. Government entities that received money from the CRF could use the funds, among other things, to make grants to small businesses to reimburse the costs of business interruption caused by required closures and to provide economic relief for those suffering employment interruption.
In August 2020, Aipoalani was hired to serve as Honolulu City and County’s Department of Community Service’s CARES Program Administrator and was responsible for administering CRF programs. In that capacity, Aipoalani agreed to accept a financial benefit from an applicant who filed two fraudulent applications for CARES Act Funds under the agreement that Aipoalani would influence the approval of the grant applications and would receive a financial benefit in return for the approvals.
The FBI, the Inspector General for AmeriCorps, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to investigating and prosecuting individuals who defraud the AmeriCorps program and programs under the CARES Act. If you are aware of fraud, waste, or abuse affecting AmeriCorps or any of its programs, contact the AmeriCorps Office of Inspector General Hotline at 1-800-452-8210 or hotline@AmeriCorpsOIG.gov.
In announcing the plea, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillips, Special Agent in Charge Miranda, and Inspector General Jeffrey commended the work of those who investigated the case from the FBI’s Honolulu Field office and the Inspector General for AmeriCorps. They also acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leslie A. Goemaat and Peter Lallas of the Fraud Section, Amanda Vaughn of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Bianca Forde, and Paralegal Specialists Mariela Andrade, Stephanie Frijas, and Joseph McClanahan.