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Saturday, April 8, 2000

Laie teen camp
founder arrested

Aloha Youth Academy's
ex-CEO is being held in
El Paso on theft charges

By Susan Kreifels


A man who opened a controversial teen-reform camp in Laie has been arrested in Texas for theft in connection with $4.7 million of missing workers' compensation funds.

Mekeli Ieremia, chief executive officer of the defunct Aloha Youth Academy, remains in the El Paso County Jail in lieu of a $1-million bond.

A jail official said he was arrested Tuesday and charged with theft of more than $200,000, a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison.

The El Paso Times reported that Ieremia, a former Brigham Young University and pro football player, was arrested during a traffic stop in El Paso after his house had been under surveillance.

Law officials said Ieremia had been in Samoa and Hawaii several times during the past year and returned to El Paso two weeks ago.

The county sheriff's office feared he would leave the country again, the report said.

In an interview with the Star-Bulletin last October, Ieremia said he resigned in 1999 from his job as director of risk management at Socorro Independent School District in El Paso while officials looked into irregularities in the school district's funds. But he said he was not under investigation.

Ieremia was also employed at the Queen's Medical Center as a senior human resources specialist and recruiter for a few months last year.

He said he quit that job so he could spend more time developing the Aloha Youth Academy in Laie.

The controversial program opened a year ago to rehabilitate troubled teens with behavior and substance-abuse problems.

Operations were suspended because the camp lacked state licensing.

Last November, the former camp director said Ieremia had disappeared.

Ieremia was also involved in a similar youth camp in Samoa called the New Hope Academy.

That camp was shut down after the U.S. State Department said New Hope abandoned five teens there in February 1999.

Regarding the El Paso case, investigators said money was taken from school district accounts through a billing process, and money was traced to Ieremia's bank accounts, the El Paso Times reported.

Other former employees and contractors are suspects.

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