An indictment says Alicia Maluafiti obtained drugs using a veterinarian’s credentials, but the political insider says she didn’t know it was improper.

A well-connected Hawaii lobbyist who used to run a spay and neuter clinic was indicted in federal court Thursday after allegedly using a veterinarian’s credentials to procure controlled substances for her operation for more than a year.  

Alicia Maluafiti, president of the nonprofit Poi Dogs & Popoki, is charged with 27 counts of using a Drug Enforcement Administration registration issued to another person. If convicted, Maluafiti could face up to four years in prison for each count. 

Alicia Maluafiti is the president of Poi Dogs & Popoki, an animal welfare nonprofit.
Alicia Maluafiti is the president of Poi Dogs & Popoki, an animal welfare nonprofit. (Hawaii News Now)

Her arraignment is scheduled for Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

Between 2018 and 2020, Maluafiti “knowingly and intentionally” used a veterinarian’s registration number and advised others to do the same, according to the indictment made public on Friday. 

She used it to procure drugs common in veterinary practice including opioids, anesthetics and sedatives like diazepam, commonly marketed as Valium, according to the indictment. Maluafiti is not a veterinarian herself and is not registered to procure controlled substances.

In an interview, Maluafiti said she is innocent of the charges and intends to plead not guilty. She acknowledged that her organization continued to use a veterinarian’s credentials even after he moved back to the mainland, including by using a stamp with his signature. But Maluafiti said she had his permission to do so. 

“The vet authorized us to operate under his license, period,” she said. “That’s going to be the basis of our defense.”

However, court records state that the vet was not aware that Maluafiti was using his DEA registration and had not given her permission. 

In an interview, that veterinarian, Richard “Jim” Brown, said he spent several months doing spay and neuter surgeries for Poi Dogs & Popoki. When he was planning to go back to his home state of Wisconsin, he said he told Maluafiti that she could order one more drug shipment while he was still on island but that she would need to find a new DEA registrant thereafter.

Brown said he didn’t find out that his registration continued to be used until the supplier called him to verify a shipment to Poi Dogs & Popoki a year and a half later.

Maluafiti said the case is a “he said, she said,” but Brown said that misses the point.

“Whether or not I told her it was OK is actually irrelevant,” he said. “I can’t tell her it’s OK. It’s an illegal act. I can’t sign a certificate in Hawaii if I’m in Wisconsin.”

Former Gov. David Ige twice appointed Maluafiti to the Hawaii Board of Veterinary Examiners, the state body in charge of licensing veterinarians, and she served from 2016 through June 2022. Brown said she should have had some understanding of veterinary licensing requirements.

But Maluafiti said that if there is a legal prohibition on using a vet’s license when they aren’t present, she wasn’t aware of it.

“I’m not a vet,” she said.

Poi Dogs & Popoki used to provide mobile spay and neuter services in vans that were parked across the street from Alicia Maluafiti’s home. (Cory Lum/ Civil Beat/2018)

Maluafiti, a longtime animal welfare advocate, said the drugs were needed to carry out the nonprofit’s spay and neuter services. As an unpaid volunteer leader of the organization, Maluafiti said the procurement of the drugs did not benefit her personally.

“This is all about my love of animals,” she said. “I don’t profit from any of this.”

The indictment casts a shadow on someone who has been involved in Hawaii’s political circles for decades.

For years Maluafiti has lobbied on behalf of high-powered groups, including genetically modified food and pesticide companies, the Hawaii Board of Realtors and the Hawaii Medical Service Association. She is also a prolific campaign donor, having given more than $56,000 to political candidates since 2007, according to campaign finance data.

Senate President Ron Kouchi has referred to Maluafiti as a “friend,” and Senate Vice President Michelle Kidani supported Maluafiti’s unsuccessful bid for state Senate in 2018. 

As of 2020, Poi Dogs & Popoki had two state lawmakers on its board, its tax filings show – Kidani and then-state Rep. Ryan Yamane, who is now serving in Gov. Josh Green’s administration. 

Kidani did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. Yamane did not respond to a message left with his office at the Department of Human Resources Development. 

Poi Dogs & Popoki has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grants from the Legislature in recent years, including a $75,000 grant last year. 

In 2018, Alicia Maluafiti testified before the City Council zoning committee on Bill 71, which would exempt 100-square-foot dog kennels from requiring a permit. (Screenshot: Olelo)

In 2018, after Maluafiti’s neighbors in Ewa Beach got upset that she was housing dozens of cats and a kennel full of dogs on her property – and she was cited by the city permitting department – the Honolulu City Council stepped in. 

Then-council chair Ernie Martin proposed a bill specifically designed to allow Maluafiti to continue housing rescued animals in the residential area. The measure ultimately stalled

Federal prosecutors first charged Maluafiti in March of last year on a felony information, which allows the government to pursue a case if the defendant is willing to waive their right to a grand jury. 

However, in April 2022, prosecutors told the court that Maluafiti “has now decided not to enter a guilty plea and be charged by way of the Information.” The case proceeded to a grand jury in August.

Today, Poi Dogs & Popoki no longer offers spay and neuter services, Maluafiti said. The group stopped those operations during the Covid-19 pandemic and staff moved on, she said. However, volunteers continue to help with animal rescues and adoptions.

“This is an altruistic effort,” she said. “All my life is taking care of animals.”

Brown said Maluafiti operated the organization in the wrong way, but the mission was worthwhile.

“I hope someone on the island does something along the lines of what Alicia was trying to do to get the stray population under control,” he said. “That’s a really important thing that should be getting done. It’s a shame we have this distraction. Hopefully, somebody will step up.” 

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