Friday, May 7, 2004

Winston Keliikipi, left, and his brother, West, appeared at their arraignment hearing yesterday. They were among seven defendants indicted in an alleged scheme to defraud Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. of $162,000.

Warrior pleads not guilty
in theft scheme

University of Hawaii running back West Keliikipi III pleaded not guilty in Circuit Court yesterday to a charge of second-degree theft.

He is among seven defendants indicted April 29 in an alleged scheme to defraud Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. of $162,000.

Also pleading not guilty to second-degree theft were Jared Santiago and Tasha Black. Keliikipi's brother, Winston, pleaded not guilty to first-degree theft. A trial was set for July 6.

Co-defendants Shantel Santa Isabel, Coleen Spencer and Gordon K. Keliikipi, a cousin of the Keliikipis, did not appear for arraignment. Their status is unknown, although Gordon Keliikipi is living on the mainland. Each faces first-degree theft charges. Isabel also faces an additional charge of first-degree computer fraud.

Spencer is scheduled for arraignment Monday. Gordon Keliikipi is making arrangements to return from the mainland, prosecutors said.

The offenses allegedly occurred during overlapping periods from February to May 2002.

Michael Green, attorney for West Keliikipi, said a woman Keliikipi worked with at a 7-Eleven where he pumped gas approached him saying she could help his family.

"She said she was going to help them, that she knew some people. She said, 'Give me your (bank) card, and I can loan you some money,'" Green said.

The woman allegedly took the cards and obtained refunds from Kaiser, placing the money into the Keliikipis' accounts.

Prosecutors would not say how the money was allegedly obtained from Kaiser.

When police questioned Keliikipi, he gave them the keys to a $3,000 car he had purchased, Green said. "He didn't know the money was stolen."

Winston Keliikipi also fully cooperated with police, said his attorney Gary Levitt. "When he found out the money was stolen, he gave back what was left in his account, about $9,000," Levitt said.

Police claimed Winston Keliikipi had stolen a little over $20,000, Levitt said.

The Keliikipis do not know co-defendants Santiago and Black, who they saw in court for the first time yesterday, Green said. They knew the woman at 7-Eleven, believed to be Isabel, was from Waianae and that she knew their family.

Green said they would like to resolve the case as quickly as possible. He plans to meet with University of Hawaii officials next week to discuss the facts of the case. "We're hopeful we can get them to reconsider him playing," Green said.

Keliikipi was expected to be a big part of the Warriors offense this fall.

The university suspended Keliikipi on Monday for "major misconduct" as defined in the UH Student-Athlete Handbook. The violation requires immediate suspension from practice and competition.

Green said he hopes Keliikipi's reputation will not be tarnished by the recent allegations.

"You have a young guy who's worked so hard to get where he is and cooperated, and all of a sudden he's in front of cameras," Green said outside the courtroom where cameras greeted Keliikipi as he left. "It's a big blow to him."

Allison Russell, Kaiser spokeswoman, said discrepancies in Kaiser's accounts apparently came to light during a monthly reconciliation process.

She would not discuss details, but said no member accounts were affected.

Once it learned of the matter, Kaiser took steps to ensure it does not happen again, Russell said.


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