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West Maui Health Alliance plans to regroup

By Staff | Aug 5, 2010

LAHAINA — The West Maui Health Alliance (WMHA) is ready to refocus and work on the healthcare needs of the community.

But first, the nonprofit needs to clear its name.

WMHA President Jo Anne Johnson wants to know if area businesses were contacted for fraudulent West Maui Health Alliance fund-raisers in 2009 or this year.

The information will be given to police working on a forgery case and postal authorities investigating mail fraud.

CJ’s Deli & Diner on Nov. 20, 2009 received a letter that stated, “While we wait for the W. Maui hospital to be built, WMHA will continue to serve W. Maui’s health care needs.

“Our fundraiser on Dec. 12 will help pay our operating costs.

“Please consider a donation of a food gift certificate for our fundraiser.”

The letter was signed by Secretary Tracy Oduni — a fictional name in no way linked to WMHA.

CJ’s Deli donated two $25 gift certificates. The restaurant’s owners were surprised when one of the vouchers was redeemed by a customer they did not see before Dec. 12, when the fake fundraiser was scheduled.

They eventually reached Johnson to ask about the benefit.

“I said, ‘What?! We haven’t done any fundraisers,’” Johnson recalled.

She filed a police report on Dec. 11, 2009 and followed leads concerning access to WMHA’s Post Office box.

On Dec. 12, CJ’s Deli received another letter from “Tracy Oduni.”

“I was in your restaurant a few weeks ago and left an assignment I wrote for a grant writing class on the table. Luckily I had another copy in my computer.

“I just realized that it may have been seen as a real request for a food donation. I got the information off the Internet and do not represent the Health Alliance.

“If you found my assignment, please throw it away. I don’t need it; I got an A on the assignment.”

Marilyn and Chef Christian Jorgensen own the deli and frequently donate to charities and fundraisers.

Marilyn said she was surprised and sad about the scam.

“The West Side gives and gives. I was really shocked,” she commented.

Regardless of the letters, Johnson said someone committed a crime by accessing WMHA’s Post Office box and redeeming the gift certificate.

Johnson, West Maui’s representative on the Maui County Council since 2001, is upset because CJ’s Deli & Diner gives generously in the community.

Scams hurt public trust and confidence in non-profits, she said, and it’s wrong to scam businesses —  even more harmful when times are tough.

WMHA was founded with Maria Weber as president, Bill Weber as secretary and Board of Directors Tom Battisto, Sen. Jan Yagi-Buen, JJ Elkin and others to bring after-hours urgent care to West Maui with the assistance of Maui Medical Group, which helped to improve access to healthcare in the region.

The medical nonprofit was formed through a lengthy, comprehensive process. When the Webers left Maui a year ago, Johnson agreed to serve as interim president to keep the organization going.

The founders “did all this work at no charge as a public service for the people of West Maui,” Johnson said.

With vast experience in hospital administration, Tom Battisto donated his time to help establish WMHA in memory of his son, Kirk, a former West Maui resident who was tragically killed in a traffic accident in California.

“Tom worked with the Webers to get West Maui Health Alliance going in honor of his son,” Johnson said.

“They worked so hard — it was important to Tom that his son’s life be memorialized in a concrete way.”

Johnson previously served as a nonvoting member of WMHA to avoid any conflict of interest while serving on the Maui County Council. She agreed to accept the position as president due to her term limits, and the fact that there are no items pending before the County Council involving WMHA.

Johnson and Penny Weigel hope to continue WMHA if the issue regarding fraud can be resolved, but they are uncertain at this point regarding the fate of the organization.

WMHA may consider assisting another nonprofit or helping secure medical equipment that could be used to serve the West Maui community’s health care needs, if they are unable to continue WMHA’s mission.

Johnson noted that people may wonder why this issue was not brought forward sooner. She said it’s taking time to gather the necessary information.

Also, with the death of Johnson’s husband, Jim, in January, and the immediate need to work on critical issues facing the County Council, such as the budget shortfall and economic downturn, these matters took precedence, she explained.

Anyone with information on false West Maui Health Alliance fund-raisers or letters is encouraged to call Weigel at 661-1068.

“We want to clear our name in a way that honors the founders of West Maui Health Alliance,” Johnson concluded.