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Defendants Sentenced for Scheme to Defraud Local Housing Programs of Over $100,000

HONOLULU, Hawaii – Raelene Rodrigues, 62, of Honolulu, Hawaii was sentenced today. Rodrigues was the last of four defendants convicted and sentenced in connection with charges involving a scheme to defraud federally funded local housing programs for over $100,000 from approximately April 2015 to August 2017. Co-defendants Leopoldo Bitte, Jr., 38, of Hilo Hawaii, Gregory Lau, 40, of San Leandro, California, and separately-charged defendant Kalani Lopez, 38, of Honolulu, Hawaii, were recently sentenced for their involvement in the same scheme.

On March 18, 2021, Bitte, Jr. pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of aggravated identity theft. On March 24 and 29, 2021, Lau and Lopez each respectively pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy for their involvement in the same scheme. Rodrigues pled guilty on September 30, 2021 to one count of wire fraud conspiracy and two counts of wire fraud. 

According to the facts stated in court documents and the defendants’ plea agreements, as well as statements in court, Bitte, Jr. worked for the Institute for Human Services (“IHS”) as a housing specialist. IHS is a Hawaii-based non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to individuals and families at risk for homelessness. Bitte, Jr. entered into agreements with Rodrigues, Lau and Lopez to defraud IHS by falsely representing that Rodrigues, Lau and Lopez were landlords eligible to receive IHS funds dedicated to the Homeless Prevention & Rapid Rehousing (“HPRP”) and Clean and Sober programs. A portion of those IHS funds had been provided through federal grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). Bitte, Jr. created fake rental agreements by using the names and personal identifying information of other individuals who had applied legitimately for services with IHS and falsely identified Rodrigues, Lau and Lopez as the landlords. Bitte, Jr. used these fake rental agreements and other documentation to cause IHS to generate checks payable to Rodrigues, Lau and Lopez. Rodrigues, Lau and Lopez then cashed the checks and split the proceeds with Bitte, Jr. As a result of this scheme, HIS generated 34 checks totaling over $100,000 payable to Rodrigues, Lau, and Lopez. 

On August 11, 2021, Bitte, Jr. was sentenced to 38 months’ imprisonment --- 14 months on one count of wire fraud conspiracy and 24 months for one count of aggravated identity theft, to be served consecutively, followed by two years of supervised release. On June 15, 2021, Lau was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. Lopez was sentenced on August 2, 2021, to three years of probation. Today, Rodrigues was sentenced to 12 months and one day imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. All four defendants are required to make restitution to IHS and its insurer.

“This case illustrates how defrauding federally funded programs does more than just illegally take money from the federal government -- it also deprives struggling members of our community of the monetary assistance they need to subsist,” said U.S. Attorney Clare E. Connors. “These convictions bring to justice those who enrich themselves at the expense of those in need of financial assistance.” 

“These defendants’ fraudulent actions jeopardize the integrity of HUD programs that are designed to assist ordinary Americans who are trying to fulfill their dreams of homeownership,” said Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Mark Kaminsky with the Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General. “HUD OIG will seek out and hold accountable individuals who steal taxpayer dollars to support their own interests.”

The case was investigated by the HUD Office of Inspector General and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Albanese.