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Thursday, August 10, 2000

Man with isle
ties gets 10 years
in Texas

Mekeli Ieremia opened
Aloha Youth Academy in
Laie, closed by the state

Staff and wire reports

A man who ran a controversial youth camp in Laie until the state shut it down last year has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for theft of $4.7 million from a Texas school district.

An El Paso jury Saturday also assessed Mekeli T. Ieremia the maximum fine of $10,000 on each of two counts, theft over $200,000 and misapplication of fiduciary property. He will be eligible for parole in 2 years. Prosecutors had sought a 40-year sentence.

LogoIeremia, 46, was convicted of siphoning money out of the Socorro school district's workers' compensation fund while he was director of risk management. According to trial testimony, the money went to pay a golfing buddy for unnecessary and high-priced employee background checks.

Ieremia, a former Brigham Young University and professional football player, was suspended from the Texas job early last year. At the same time he was working in El Paso, he opened a youth reform camp in Samoa called New Hope Academy.

Ieremia opened Aloha Youth Academy at Laie in April 1999 soon after the Samoa camp was closed amid complaints from disgruntled parents and staff. The North Shore operation was to be a rehabilitation program for youths with behavior and substance abuse problems. Seven youths were treated before the Department of Health ordered it closed in November because it had failed to get required state licenses.

Former staff members and the Friends of Malaekahana, which leased park land to Aloha Youth Academy, told the Star-Bulletin in October that the program owed them thousands of dollars.

At the prosecution's request, Judge David C. Guaderrama said he will conduct a restitution hearing to determine what he will order Ieremia to pay back to the school system. District officials are also considering filing a civil suit against Ieremia.

He ordered and authorized 1,180 background reports to be done on district employees at $3,500 apiece. The reports, district officials testified, were of no value to the district.

The four companies paid by the district for the reports were all owned by Michael Rhinehardt of Dallas, Ieremia's golfing buddy since the early 1990s, according to testimony.

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