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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ex-RightStar CEO pleads no contest

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

John Dooley

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The former chief executive of the RightStar group of funeral homes and cemeteries here entered a surprise plea of no contest to theft charges in court yesterday morning and will be sentenced early next year.

John Dooley was charged with stealing $50,939 from 28 RightStar customers and is named as a central figure in a $30 million civil fraud suit filed by the state.

He entered the no-contest pleas at a status conference before Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall, which was to have concerned his upcoming criminal trial.

Dooley's lawyer, John Schum, confirmed that his client pleaded no contest.

"There is no plea agreement" reached with the attorney general's office, Schum said, but added that his client has "always been willing to assist the the state" in its inquiries about the financial collapse of the RightStar companies.

Dooley will be sentenced by Crandall Jan. 4.

Dooley ran the RightStar group of companies from 2001 until 2004, when a foreclosure suit put the firms into a court-supervised receivership that continues today.

RightStar owns Valley of the Temples and Diamond Head Mortuary on Oahu, Maui Memorial Park, and Homelani and Kona Memorial Parks on the Big Island. RightStar also owns several companies that sell and administer pre-need funeral plans, including the 50th State Funeral Plan.

In 2004, Attorney General Mark Bennett's office sued Dooley and a group of associates, including former Gov. John Waihee, alleging that they conspired to improperly remove as much as $30 million from trust accounts held for 50,000 customers who had purchased "pre-need" funeral plans from RightStar. Those suits are still pending in Circuit Court.

Dooley was secretly indicted in December 2006 on the theft charges but wasn't apprehended until April 2008, when police officers in Oregon stopped him for a traffic violation and discovered the outstanding warrant for his arrest in Hawaii.

Dooley has been held at Oahu Community Correctional Center since his return here in May 2008, unable to post $100,000 bail.

Since RightStar went into receivership, state officials have consistently said that all outstanding RightStar pre-need contracts will be honored.

A court-ordered auction of the RightStar assets was canceled last year after no bidders came forth who were willing to pay the minimum asking price of $25 million.

Since then, a new management team, overseen by court-appointed receiver Marie Milks, has been operating RightStar for the court until a new auction can be scheduled.