A Hawaii woman has been charged with bilking more than $400,000 from a Milpitas-based nonprofit that provides affordable housing to the disadvantaged including the developmentally disabled and people with AIDS, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office announced Thursday.

Theo Lani Bell, 62, is scheduled to enter a plea Monday to charges of felony grand theft and multiple tax violations in connection with an alleged five-year scheme where she falsified repair orders for an Oakland homeless shelter and pocketed the money reimbursed to her by Housing for Independent People, a nonprofit headquartered in Milpitas.

According to prosecutors, Bell "systematically defrauded" the agency by submitting fake repair orders for the building and phony materials purchases from a local hardware store. The ploy unraveled in 2009 when another staffer evaluated the building and deemed the "repairs" unnecessary, and soon learned that the hardware store Bell supposedly used had never done business with her.

Bell resigned a short time later, and after prosecutors built their case an investigator for the District Attorney's Office traveled to Bell's family horse and cattle ranch on the island of Hawaii late last year and brought her back to Santa Clara County, where she remains in custody. The charges against Bell carry a maximum penalty of nine years in prison.



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