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Maui fines couple $800,000 over rentals


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POSTED: Monday, March 16, 2009

WAILUKU » Maui County wants to impose civil fines of more than $800,000 on two residents for illegally operating short-term vacation rentals advertised as “;erotic”; retreats.

It is by far the largest civil case to date against a vacation rental operator in Maui County.

The next-biggest fine came last summer and involved a $214,000 penalty, but negotiations reduced the amount to $35,000.

The county has filed a lawsuit against Janet “;Kira”; Lessin and Alex “;Sasha”; Lessin of Waiehu.

It alleges the pair offered short-term accommodations to participants in “;dating and mating”; classes they held.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Jane Lovell says the classes appear to be legal. She says the county takes issue with the couple offering visitor accommodations.

When the case began less than three years ago, the School of Tantra's Web site said, “;Enjoy seven days of exotic erotic fun in paradise!”; Lovell said.

“;So we said, 'Aha, this is still a violation of short-term rentals,' once we (saw) that they advertised to provide accommodations there.”;

The county's penalty for the Lessins, now about $800,000 in fines, increases by $1,000 a day for allegedly continuing to operate an un-permitted transient vacation rental at their compound at 1371 Malaihi Road.

The Lessins say they do not offer retreats at the property because home-based businesses are not allowed on agricultural property.

Janet Lessin says they had a center in Wailuku but had to close it in November because of the poor economy.

“;We're not even doing short-term rentals; we never did it here,”; said Janet Lessin when contacted by phone Thursday. “;It's my home, and I'm running a farm right now. And we have a church. It's just absurd. ... I'm just totally blown away.”;

Janet Lessin said they now offer only the occasional classes, which often have sexual themes, or therapy sessions in rented community rooms or maybe while taking a hike, she said.

But The Maui News reported the March calendar of events on the couple's Web site was nearly filled with activities.

Lessin said she and her husband have not seen a copy of the complaint yet, and she never received any notices or fines from the county. She was shocked to learn about the complaint, she said.

Lovell said the Lessins had directed the county to deliver all paperwork to their lawyers.