Lawsuit: Churches Shortchanged Hawaii Schools $5.6M
Churches are massively shortchanging Hawaii’s public schools on rent and other costs for weekend-use of school facilities, according to a whistleblower lawsuit that was unsealed by the Circuit Court late Wednesday.
The lawsuit, which was filed under seal by attorney James Bickerton in March, alleges that five churches have over the last six years deprived the schools of more than $5.6 million in rent and other charges. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs — two private citizens who are pursuing the case on behalf of the state — the churches could owe the schools three times that amount, $16.8 million.
The lawsuit contends that the churches — New Hope Oahu, New Hope Hawaii Kai, New Hope Kapolei, Calvary Chapel Central Oahu and One Love Ministries — filed false forms in which they understated how much time they used the facilities in order to save money, at the schools' expense.
In their applications to the Hawaii Department of Education for use of the facilities, the churches repeatedly indicated that they planned on occupying the grounds for just a few hours. They ended up using them for whole days or even entire weekends, according to the lawsuit.
"They’re directly taking money from our state’s children,” Bickerton said. “And that doesn't happen by accident.”