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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12 p.m., Friday, May 18, 2001

Woman faces new charges in cargo container scam

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

Mabel Elena Maria, a Nanakuli woman who was a key figure in the so called "cargo container scam" that bilked hundreds of local investors out of millions of dollars in the early 1980s, was indicted by an O'ahu grand jury yesterday for allegedly cheating three O'ahu residents in new schemes.

City deputy prosecutor Randal Lee said that in one case, Maria allegedly took $3,000 raised by friends and family of a man arrested on a weapons charge, and told those people that she would contribute another $6,000 to post bail for him.

The $9,000 was supposed to have been used to buy a bail bond for Bruce Rios, who was being held on $90,000 bail. But Maria did not post the bond, Lee said.

In a second case, Maria, 49, is accused of taking $12,000 from an uncle under the guise of making mortgage payments for him. The uncle's house is on Hawaiian Home Lands. She failed to make the payments, Lee said.

In the third case, Maria is accused of attempting to sell a home owned by her son, which is also on Hawaiian Home Lands. Maria allegedly took and kept $3,400 from a woman who wanted to buy the home, although the woman is not Hawaiian and would not have qualified to buy the house, Lee said.

Maria's adult son Ronald Keala Kua Maria is also charged with second-degree theft in that case.

All told, Maria was indicted on three counts of second-degree theft and one count of money laundering.

Her bail was set at $400,000. The high figure was partially because of her involvement in the container scam, and because she is still on probation for a conviction in state court in May 1996 for second-degree theft.

Bench warrants were issued yesterday for the arrests of Mabel and Ronald Maria.

The "cargo container scheme" dates back to 1979 when Maria solicited money from friends and relatives to invest in fictitious cargo containers.

Maria told investors the containers held surplus federal goods and the investment would return as much as 20 to 1.

Before it was over, police said that Maria had collected millions of dollars. When the scheme was stopped in 1981, police confiscated more than 60 cars, trucks and motorcycles along with jewelry, furnishings and other expensive items bought by Maria.