Otsuka denies stealing troupe's funds
Lisa-Katharine Otsuka says she has waited five years to tell her story about accusations that she stole some $3,000 raised by a Tahitian dance troupe in 2002.
Otsuka, 37, took the stand yesterday in her defense against charges of second-degree theft, denying she took the money.
She said she gave cash, not a cashier's check, to Belinda Miranda, a dancer with the Manutahi dance troupe and now its vice president, about two weeks after the fundraiser on a Monday, on the way to a purported board meeting in Whitmore Village.
She said Miranda had requested the money in that form, and contended Miranda gave her a receipt before they parted ways in Whitmore.
Her testimony contradicted that of Miranda, a prosecution witness, who said Otsuka was the one who offered to convert the proceeds from the fundraiser into a cashier's check. She said Otsuka never gave the check to her or the group.
Otsuka said she cashed the cashier's check she had purchased and had planned to give to Manutahi after giving Miranda cash she had available in her safe at home. She said she tried to give the money to Miranda the night of the fundraiser, but Miranda did not want to be responsible for it because they were still busy cleaning up after the event.
Otsuka had agreed to assist the group with the raffle portion of the fundraiser because of her friendship with Miranda, whom she met in 1999. Miranda came to her in tears in early March 2001, upset because Manutahi was not ready for a fundraiser it was planning for April at Ocean Club in Restaurant Row, Otsuka said.
Otsuka, who co-owned a detailing company at the time, said she agreed to be a corporate sponsor for the fundraiser and conduct the raffle, including securing prizes. She also made the program for the raffle and produced supplies needed to run it, including leis that the attendees could purchase to get raffle tickets. She also said she contributed $500 cash that night to give out change.
By the end of the fundraiser, they counted $3,035, including the $500 from Otsuka, which she considered to be a contribution as the event's only corporate sponsor.
On the stand yesterday, Otsuka painted Miranda as a friend who spent a lot of time at Otsuka's residences and constantly relied on her for rides or money.
Because of their friendship, Otsuka said she offered Miranda work in February 2001 to help her with a youth scholarship program Otsuka was establishing.
Although she had no experience, Miranda was to provide business services, including writing grants, Otsuka said. But their relationship soured because Miranda was not producing work as called for in her contract, Otsuka said, though she allowed Miranda to cash her checks.
She would later describe Miranda as an "upset, disgruntled former employee of sorts" to a police detective when contacted in February 2002.
Miranda testified that Otsuka repeatedly failed to drop off the check as promised, and group leaders ended up having to get a loan from Otsuka's boyfriend and do more fundraising so the group could compete in a Maui competition four months later. She denied borrowing Otsuka's cars or accepting money from her except for payments for her scholarship foundation work.
She said that after repeated excuses why she could not give them the money, Otsuka told her on the phone in September 2001, "You are never going to get it."