Friday, October 8, 1999

Money probe
stretches from
Texas to Laie

An El Paso school fund once
headed by an isle man is
missing $4.7 million

By Susan Kreifels


Authorities in Texas are investigating as much as $4.7 million allegedly missing in workers compensation funds that were handled by a man who opened a controversial teen-reform camp in Laie, according to news reports and investigators there.

Mekeli Ieremia, chief executive officer of the Aloha Youth Academy, said he was suspended earlier this year from his job as director of risk management at Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas, while officials looked into irregularities in the school district's funds.

But Ieremia stressed yesterday that he never came under any investigation.

Ieremia said he voluntarily resigned on advice of his attorney.

An El Paso Times report in April said unnamed school officials alleged that Ieremia siphoned district funds to a secret account while pretending to contract outside companies for background checks on prospective employees.

Capt. Ralph Mitchell, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division for the El Paso County Sheriff's Department, said there was an "open investigation" of allegations raised by Socorro school officials but would not comment further.

The newspaper also reported that the FBI there was investigating the allegations. The FBI office did not return a call yesterday.

"The injustice is putting my name in the paper," Ieremia said.

"They jumped the gun. I want to assure you there is no investigation whatsoever."

Ieremia, a former Brigham Young University and pro football player, said he was traveling to El Paso next week and would not comment further on the case until he returned.

Ieremia was also employed at the Queen's Medical Center as a senior human resources specialist and recruiter from May until recently. He said he quit so he could spend more time developing Aloha Youth Academy.

The program opened last April as a place where teens with behavior and substance-abuse problems could be rehabilitated. Seven youths -- two from Hawaii -- were treated there. But the state Department of Health last week said the last teen there must leave by Saturday because the facility lacks state licensing.

Aloha Youth has suspended operations until it gets the required licensing.

Academy director Jeff Pluemacher said he is applying for a special treatment facility license with the Health Department and will resume operations at a site to be determined.

Controversy has surrounded Aloha Youth. Former employees and the Friends of Malaekahana, which leased park land to Aloha Youth, say the program owes them thousands of dollars.

Two mainland parents pulled their children out after a counselor called them to say Aloha Youth was not providing the promised services. One parent said she plans to sue.

The state Family Court is looking into confidential court records that were sent to the same parent along with an Aloha Youth brochure.

The parent believes Aloha Youth wanted her to believe the program was endorsed by the court, which it is not.

The brochure also falsely said the academy was a fully accredited school.

"I regret the misunderstandings that have damaged our relations with our neighbors, and I am intent on rebuilding those relationships," Pluemacher said.

Pluemacher and Ieremia also were involved with New Hope Academy in Samoa, a separate operation.

The U.S. State Department said New Hope abandoned five teens there in February.

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