Hawaii News — Allegations of Corruption at Hawai’i Community College

 Students continue to pay fees for services no longer provided by the college

“There is no practice of refunding fees when students only partially or do not utilize services.” — Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jason Cifra

(Editor’s note: Stephanie Shor is the news editor for Ke Kalahea, the University of Hawaii student newspaper, and an intern with Big Island Chronicle. A version of this article will appear in the next edition of Ke Kalahea.)

By Stephanie Shor

Three Student Council members at the Hawai’i Community College (HCC) have been removed from their positions after they say they were repeatedly denied requests for financial records of expenditures over the course of more than two years.

Along with missing receipts and fiscal documentation of money spent by the administration, questions had also been raised in regard to tuition fees collected for services no longer available to HCC students after the 2013 separation from UH Hilo, and never available to students at the Hawai’i Community College’s West Hawai’i Campus.
At an emergency meeting called on March 14, HCC Student Activities Vice-Chair Brian Kelii made motions to remove Student Government President Eric Aranug and Student Activities Treasurer Marieta Carino “based on misconduct and violations as outlined in the Hawai’i Community College Student Council Bylaws,” according to agenda records.
After several fruitless attempts to obtain records from Advisor Larissa Leslie on the spending of budget funds and the location of rollover money from previous semesters, Aranug and Carino say they unsuccessfully appealed to Interim Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Jan Javinar for assistance.  Because of this, Aranug says he was informed he and Carino had failed to approach the council with their concerns before consulting an outside authority, and were therefore removed from their positions.

Carino provided this reporter with multiple letters and emails exchanged with Leslie, attempting to procure financial reports for her records on the council, however, neither receipts from expenditures over the last five years nor documentation of the approximately $282,082 balance from the Fall 2013 budget have been accounted for to date.

The particular bylaws that Aranug and Carino allegedly violated emphasizes the importance of the Student Council engaging in “collaborative performances, assessments, and communications with the Advisor” and other members of the Student Council in representation of the concerns and interests of the student body, according to the Student Council Bylaws handbook.

The bylaws were recently overhauled and re-written after the Student Council was disbanded for a year in 2012 in order to form a Task Force specifically designed to improve the structure and integrity of student government proceedings.  Once finalized, the student body was asked to either approve or deny the new handbook through election proceedings held on campus.

Former Student Government Treasurer David Canning participated in the Task Force that created a new set of strict rules and regulations, including an Article IX Finances section which states that “mandatory student fees are expended and accounted for properly within the Student Government,” and that “the Student Government will be responsible for maintaining the organization’s fiscal records.”

Canning alleged that the proposed bylaws were altered during the voting period by a “Student Board” under Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs (VCSA) Jason Cifra.  Within the new bylaws which were subsequently approved when the voting period was extended through September, sections detailing election regulations as well as advisor duties were edited without the consent of the original Task Force.

The council was reformed the next year and a Finance Committee Meeting was held on February 12, 2013.  Canning questioned Leslie on her ongoing self-approved allocations within her Support Operations Budget, which employs her student assistants at Kau Wa’a.  Among the undocumented expenditures of Leslie’s $65,000 budget, $5,000 was allocated for the purchase of a new sofa and other furniture that Leslie claimed Kau Wa’a Center may need in the future.

Canning voiced concern that these expenditures were not presented to the Student Council for approval before disbursement to which Leslie responded that, “she would be in charge of those funds and that no further approvals would be required or allowed by the Student Council or Student Government/Activities Board members,” according to meeting minutes.

It was brought to the council’s attention that Canning had requested proper financial documentation more than seven times since he had taken office in December of the previous year.  Although fiscal records were promised by VCSA Cifra once the Student Council was formally organized again, Canning never received these documents.

At the end of the February 2013 finance meeting, Advisor Leslie eventually admitted that all of the expenditures that she had made were “without the authorization of Student Council; but in her defense, she stated they were spent in the best interest of the student body,” according to meeting minutes.

Approximately $30,000 was also requested by Leslie for her staff in the Support Operations Budget, although former SA Treasurer Carino claimed that the staff was to be funded by federal grant money and Bridge to Hope.  Leslie at press time had not responded to requests for comment.

In the spring of 2013, Canning took his concerns to the Board of Regents, Chancellor and Accreditation Board, asking for a full audit of the council’s finances.  His requests were unheeded and he was then notified that the council was calling a special meeting to remove him from his position.

It has been a year since Treasurer Canning was removed from office and UH Hilo officially separated from HCC.  According to meeting records, another concern in Advisor Leslie’s undocumented spending was her apparent duplicate request for a $12,000 allocation of funds for 2013 student planners, which had already been expended.

These student planners are supposedly acting as the HCC student publication according to statements from VCSA Cifra, as part of the $31 tuition fee still collected each semester from students for “Publications, Campus Center, etc.”  Publication and Campus Center fees were previously used for UH funding towards Ke Kalahea and the Student Life Center, so that HCC students could also enjoy these services.  Since the split of the two schools in 2013, however, HCC students no longer have access to these programs.

Former Treasurer Carino recently questioned VCSA Cifra before her removal as to the legality of charging students for something that the school is not providing.  He allegedly responded that he did not consider this to be an illegal act because the accumulated money is being kept in a bank account, which he plans to utilize when a news publication for HCC is implemented.

Cifra declined to comment on when these services may be implemented for future students.  As for students who will graduate before seeing the benefit of the organizations, Cifra stated in an email that, “Regarding refunds, student fees are not user fees.  There is no practice of refunding fees when students only partially or do not utilize services.”
According to the Hawai’i System Financial Aid Services, Federal Pell Grants and Stafford Loans awarded to deserving students are utilized first to pay for tuition and fees, before any other aid is used.  The student population at HCC is about 3,000 and each registered full-time student is charged $31 per semester for Student Publication and Campus Center fees.

This means that since the split from UH in spring 2013, the monetary accumulation has reached as much as $372,000.  In the 2010-2011 academic year alone, approximately 77 percent of students in the entire nation received Federal Financial Aid, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

15 replies
  1. Damon
    Damon says:

    “…Publication and Campus Center fees were previously used for UH funding towards Ke Kalahea and the Student Life Center, so that HCC students could also enjoy these services. Since the split of the two schools in 2013, however, HCC students no longer have access to these programs….”

    How don’t HawCC students have access to the Ke Kalahea??? They are free?

    What about the HawCC students living in the dorms. Are they cut off from the Student Life Center?

    BTW – HCC is on Oahu. (Honolulu Community College). HawCC is on the Big Island (Hawaii Community College).

  2. The Casual Observer
    The Casual Observer says:

    Jason Cifrah’s leadership, or lack thereof, will be brought to light. I am glad to see Hawaii CC students empowered to do what is right.

  3. Handyman
    Handyman says:

    Aloha Damon,

    Again, you put your foot in your mouth. HCC = “Hawaii Community College”.

    The programs that you claim are “free”, are not “free”. Do your research.

    I hope those responsible for these misuse of funds are reprimanded accordingly.


  4. corruption reasercher
    corruption reasercher says:

    Aloha Damon the casual observer, and the handyman,
    Thank you for your support for the issues at hand. Although the ke kalahea appears to be free it is actually paid for by a $19 student publication fee. This fee was not previously charged to students at west Hawaii but as of this past semester it is. these students are on the other side of the island and do not receive the newspaper and the students at HawCC hilo can get a copy at UH HILO but they no longer produce enough for the students at both campuses because the fee that is collected does not go to the publication any more. These fees that are being charged are collected and held and the VCSA has sole access to these funds along with the rec fee and the campus center fee. There is no campus center at HawCC nor at West Hawaii and although some students have access to UH Hilo’s campus center they are not allowed to participate in UH events or use the facilities at UH without paying additional fees at the campus center. It was not the wish of the students to cause this separation in fact it was the opposite. The students had spent more than 2 years mending relations between the colleges and were on the way to mutual acceptance and had filled all seats in all the joint student organizations. The separation was instigated by the advisor Larissa Leslie and VCSA Cifra and was not the will or want of the students. Furthermore since the split these CSO’s do not exist at HawCC Hilo!!!! They are in a state of suspension and yet still are being funded by MANDITORY Student Fees. These fees first come out of the students federal grants then from student loans and if there is not enough to pay them they have to come out of the students pockets, so this is Federal dollars being taken from over 3000 students per semester. Advisor Leslie and VCSA Cifra have admitted to the taking and use of these funds without the permission od the students on the record and yet they have to date not even received a slap on the hand and to top it off the Chancellor Noreen Yamane is fully aware of this situation and supports the taking and misuse of these fees. According to state senators and representatives this is a system wide problem and they are trying to help get to the bottom of it. It is my belief that these individuals should be treated the same as any other person who is caught committing these crimes…PROSECUTION TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF THE LAW!!!! Dismissal from their positions, and forced to pay restitution. it is my opinion that This is Fraud and should be treated as such.
    Concerned student of the UH System

  5. diana
    diana says:

    I can’t help but remember that larissa leslie’s exboss fromm Hilo community college was also fired for misappropriation of funds, it seems larissa leslie slid into her position via her bosses departure( I wonder if she helped push her out of her job) with no qualifications for her position of student adviser. Why has she not been thoroughly investigated? Does she have to come to your house and steal to be removed?? who is in charge of this crap anyways? I cannot find her at kamehameha school any year ( she claims it as fact)

  6. bigisleboi
    bigisleboi says:

    Eric Aranug was a piss poor excuse of a president who never participated in any of the student council events. Marieta Carino is not very nice on campus. I dont know much about student council but I think that they are supposed to be the student voice. SO if they never brought these concerns to the student body and council and just acted independently, they arent they in the wrong. as a hawcc students, I have no complaints about our student council. they have been pumping out big events for us like the drive-in movies and the snack tables. also seems like this story is one sided. why is there nothing from the council in here,

  7. Handyman
    Handyman says:

    Aloha corruption researcher,….AKA Concerned student of the UH System,

    Thank you for the recap.

    I admire your efforts in revealing the criminal wrong that these people are committing. (I trust your research is accurate). With that said,…..I hope you continue to see this revelation to its end and not get too discouraged with the bureaucratic BS that I’m sure you will face. I applaud your courage and persistance that has brought you this far.

    The cost of an education is already at an all-time high. Students deserve to have services rendered where money has already been paid for, not cheated out of their investment. I think it’s a crime to misuse educational funds to the extent that students have no idea where to benefit from their financial investment to the “full extent”.

    I am in agreement with you, that “those” whom are responsible for this gross negligence, is brought to the forefront and dealt with to the “full extent” of the law.

    Go forth with determination to correct the wrong that is being done.


  8. coruption researcher
    coruption researcher says:

    Big island boi,
    You really need to be careful what you say especially in writing. The comments you made can be considered libel and slander. As to your comment about the councils position they were asked for comment and refused and so did administration. This council is a puppet of the advisor most of the members are employed in the offices of the school administrators or other aspects of the college like the counseling dept. Maybe you should check with Hawaii News Now at their website as they broke this story yesterday evening and got the feedback of the council and the administration and the bottom line is that these student organizations for which these fees are collected do not exist!!!! They were separated from UH 3 semesters ago and yet they have continued to collect over 240 thousand dollars in student fees for services that will not benefit the students from which these fees are collected. In case you don’t understand what this is it is FRAUD and THEFT and since these fees come from the federal government in most cases as grants and guaranteed student loans this is a federal offence which if found guilty of can be as much as 30 years in a federal prison and restitution. Your statements can land you in a lawsuit for slander and libel so in the future you may want to not name names or make accusations against individuals without knowing all the facts.

  9. eric aranug (clueless)
    eric aranug (clueless) says:

    To all of you! I know people on the hawcc council and I will assure you they are no puppets on the council. If you say other wise, name those puppets so we don’t vote for them in the next election. Why don’t you guy run for a position? I heard there is time to puut your name up for elections? What afraid? Can you be better or I should say worst! And for all you UH cry babies, did’nt the hawcc student council paid for allyour food at your last event? (Battle of the bands)? Let me ask you this hawcc had a drive in movie. (Frozen) they gave alot of free food away, tge next night UH had the same movie, what was the cost of your food? If that the case UH student should not come to hawcc event to get a better deal. I helped the council that night so I know, and alot of your students where there. All of you should do your research better and stop listening to the 3 knuckle heads. I have heard that marieta could not even do her budget report when given the funds! Can’t even balance her check book. Even went as far to break up a marriage. As for david, the biggest cry baby of them all (friends of UH Radio) eric to quite and clueless.

  10. bigisleboi
    bigisleboi says:

    hey corruption researcher,

    marieta is a geriatric golddigger who was always mean to students whenever the student council held events. even faculty complained about her. and eric was never present at any of the events. that is TRUTH, no there is slander or BS about that. my classmate overheard him during the first week of school approaching the councils table where they were giving out snacks. he refused to sign a survey in order to get a snack because “i am the president”. research your shit before you mouth off. also the media is all about sensational stories. im sure there is truth before everything negative that is being said about hcc. the truth will prevail. fyi i always stop at the councils table whenever they have something and talk story with them. you wanna talk about posting the truth. well you said most of the members are employed on campus. that is BS! there is only two members that i know of that works on campus.maybe you should talk to your two friends before backing them up since you feel the need to defend them.

  11. diana
    diana says:

    what is wrong with you? If you have something to contribute speak like a gentleman and not a Punk, you are in the adult world now and obviously very easy to fool. Open your eyes and shut your Mouth before someone figures out that you do not have a clue. Be nice or go away, if you cannot back up what you say ,do not post it here,speculation belongs in the Dear Abby column. Do you actually go to school? You are defending people who care nothing about you,do you even read what you write or have you been given a scrip to read?

  12. diana
    diana says:

    hey bigislanboy! you sound like one of the guilty people. Please if you want to leave messages be a gentleman and not a Punk. This affects everyone and since you are not upset, you must be faculty?

  13. diana
    diana says:

    Keep doing what you are doing corruption researcher, I saw the Hawaii News now that is being shown over and over.Obviously the higher ups think there is a problem,or Keoki Kerr would not have come over to check out the school. How embarrassing it was that none of the administration would come out to even speak on their behalf, that says volumes, Ihave met Marietta and I like her straight forward manner, to the point no nonsense. I am Alumni from U.H. and I am with you.

  14. College Student
    College Student says:

    I want to know how some student can join student council if they have a criminal background. How come the advisor did not check their back ground. Checking the HCC council pictures there’s some looked like criminals. What’s up with that? I heard some council can’t not even speak extemporaneously and worse than a clown. What happen to the rest of the council not questioning the student fee accounts? Why only 3 council wants the truth? Is there any benefits given to the other council not speaking up the truth. Bigisleboi said that the staff and students don’t like Marieta? Because Marieta is speaking up the truth and looking after the interest of her fellow students. How about the rest of the council? Are they only there for title and tuition free ride? Or perhaps some sneaky deals behind close doors. What’s wrong with the HCC administration. Perhaps, the administration needs a major overhaul. Refund the students money VCSA Cifra and Larissa Leslie?

  15. Damon
    Damon says:

    As the former Layout Editor for the Ke Kalahea as well as an elected student government representative from HawCC nothing surprises me.

    Bigger fish to fry then those I tried too bust w/ no avail back in the days.

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