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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 25, 2010

Leader accused of theft resigns

BY Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

The second highest ranking lay person at Kawaiaha'o Church has resigned amid a criminal theft investigation by the state Attorney General's office.

The departure represents the latest controversy for the church known as "the Westminster Abbey of Hawai'i," which also faces questions from the AG's office over its fundraising practices and is being sued for disinterring dozens of human remains.

Earlier this month, Kanani Oleole resigned as Kawaiaha'o's vice moderator, which is one of the most important, nonclerical positions at the church.

Church officials said her resignation was for personal reasons. Oleole wanted to attend another church where her husband is a member, they said.

But Oleole's resignation also comes as several church members have alleged that she misappropriated $5,000 from a local nonprofit organization.

The organization, known as the All Pacific Prayer Assembly, is separate from Kawaiaha'o Church but receives some funding and other support from the church.

The attorney general's office recently opened a criminal investigation into the alleged theft.

Pastor Michael Warren, who heads the APPA, said that the attorney general's office questioned him several weeks ago about the matter. But he declined to discuss details of the case at the request of state investigators.

Oleole could not be reached for comment.

Curt Kekuna, Kawaiaha'o's kahu, said Oleole acknowledged her wrongdoing to him even before she was appointed vice moderator and he said that Oleole is now paying the money back.

Kekuna said that as vice moderator, Oleole did not have access to church funds and had no say over the church's financial matters.

"A representative of All Pacific Prayer Assembly alerted me to the improper use of funds by Kanani Oleole," Kekuna said in an e-mail.

"I confronted Ms. Oleole and she confessed to me what she had done, asked for forgiveness and wanted to make restitution, which she has been doing."

Established in 1820, Kawaiaha'o Church is one of the state's oldest churches and is on the national and state registers of historic places.

Founded in 1991, the All Pacific Prayer Assembly is a nonprofit group that supports congregational churches in the Pacific.

The nonpaid position of vice moderator is a two-year position that's chosen by the church's council. The vice moderator assists the church's moderator in presiding over council meetings, membership meetings, retreats and special meetings of the church.

The investigation into the theft allegations is separate from the attorney general's inquiries into the fundraising for the church's stalled, $17.5 million multipurpose center.

Last year, the attorney general's charities unit told Kawaiaha'o officials that some of their annual reports contained material misstatements about the center's fundraising costs. The civil probe is still pending.

Construction on the 30,000-square-foot center was halted in March 2009 after workers dug up 69 sets of human remains at the site.

Abigail Kawananakoa, heiress to the Campbell Estate fortune, and Dana Naone Hall, a Hawaiian cultural specialist whose relatives are buried at Kawaiaha'o's cemetery, have sued the church over its handling of the remains.