Otsuka goes on trial in missing-funds case
A former Maui beauty queen is accused of stealing fundraiser money from a Tahitian troupe
A former Maui beauty queen accused of stealing fundraiser money from a Tahitian dance and music troupe says she turned over the money to an officer of the nonprofit organization.
But prosecutors contend that Lisa-Katharine Otsuka, 37, converted the $3,035 into a cashier's check that she claimed she was going to present to the group Manutahi, then cashed it three days later.
Nearly five years after she was indicted for second-degree theft, Otsuka's trial opened yesterday in Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario's courtroom.
Otsuka, 37, was to present the check to the group at a practice session following the April 1, 2001, fundraiser at Ocean Club in Restaurant Row. But she failed to show up twice, testified Debra Ann Teriipaia, who founded Manutahi in 1990 to assist at-risk youths.
Teriipaia met Otsuka in September 2000 through Belinda Miranda, a former student who has since become an instructor and Manutahi's vice president. Otsuka, owner of a company called Management Efficiency Specialists, had offered to assist by procuring prizes for the raffle.
The group was raising money so they could to fly to a Maui competition, along with their musicians. They had done a similar fundraiser the year before that was successful.
A month after the 2001 fundraiser, Otsuka notified Miranda that the cashier's check was at a friend's home. Both Teriipaia and Miranda repeatedly called Otsuka without success to get their money.
Frantic because the August competition was nearing, Teriipaia sent a letter to Otsuka asking for their money. When she failed to respond, the group ended up securing a loan to participate in the Maui competition.
More than a month after the group returned from the competition, Otsuka promised to get the check to them. But three weeks later, she informed Manutahi that the check was lost and that they were never going to get it, prosecutors said.
Teriipaia said they initially agreed to Otsuka's offer to help because of her impressive resume and because she appeared to have contacts and know what she was doing.
The trial has been delayed numerous times, in part because Otsuka has changed lawyers five times and become pregnant twice since her indictment.
She was set to go to trial last October, but a bench warrant was issued for her arrest after she failed to appear in court. Authorities located Otsuka in Las Vegas and arrested her Nov. 17. She waived extradition and returned voluntarily.
Her name first surfaced in the fall of 2002 during the city prosecutor's public corruption investigation into then-Mayor Jeremy Harris' campaign.
The investigation allegedly focused on how Harris' payments to Campaign Services Inc., a local pollster, ended up in Otsuka's bank account. Harris, at the time, denied knowing Otsuka or any wrongdoing.
Otsuka also faces a second trial on unrelated theft and forgery charges.