Pastor pleads
no contest to theft

He and his wife bought
a sport utility vehicle
while receiving welfare

The pastor of a Kalihi congregation and his wife say they had no intention of cheating the state of $15,000 in public assistance but want to put criminal charges behind them.

The Rev. Petaia Timoteo, a leader in the Samoan community and pastor of the Trinity Congregational Christian Samoan Church, and his wife Amilagi Timoteo, pleaded no contest to a second-degree theft charge yesterday.

Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto ordered the Timoteos to five years probation and ordered them to pay $15,955 in restitution for benefits received from 2000 to 2002.

He also ordered Petia Timoteo, 39, to perform 150 hours of community service. He granted Amilagi Timoteo, 45, a former schoolteacher, a deferral of her no-contest plea and ordered her to perform 100 hours of community service. The deferral means she may be able to wipe the conviction off her record.

Sakamoto told the couple that their theft hurt everyone and deprived the state of funds that could have been used by members of their congregation. "You led them astray," Sakamoto told Timoteo.

Sakamoto also denied a request by Petaia Timoteo to defer his no-contest plea.

The couple's attorney, Frank Fernandez, had argued that a deferral would be appropriate for both given that neither have any criminal records and they are not likely to commit further crimes. The couple is also willing to make restitution and has already made some payments, Fernandez said.

The Timoteos had applied for public assistance in March 2001, saying that they were making $100 every six months and were living in housing provided by the church, according to prosecutors.

Yet two months later, the Timoteos purchased a new GMC Yukon -- a sport utility vehicle worth $47,000 -- on credit, Deputy Attorney General Rick Damerville told the court.

To qualify for a $47,000 car loan, Timoteo had church parishioners submit letters to the credit union confirming his income, which he represented at the time to be $4,000 a month, Damerville said.

Timoteo said his income fluctuates from month to month because he receives no salary and relies on contributions from their small congregation. He also receives monetary contributions for officiating at blessings, funerals and weddings but did not realize he had to report them as income, he said.


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