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Defense in Mata’u case urges humane sentence

Says Julie Mata’u not “heartless thief” the government depicts
fili@samoanews.com

Defense attorney for Julie Matau is recommending a home confinement sentence for the former grant manager of the defunct U’una’i Legal Service Corporation that would allow the defendant to care for her family as well as her disabled brother, all living in San Francisco.

Julie Matau and her daughter Andrea Matau will be sentenced next Tuesday at the federal court in Oakland, Calif. The mother and daughter were charged with stealing some $160,000 in federal grants awarded to U’una’i, whose former acting boss David Wagner is also charged in the same case but at a federal court in Missouri.

JULIE MATAU DEFENSE

On Monday federal prosecutors recommended Julie be sentenced to 30 months in prison, and ordered to pay $159,753 in restitution, arguing among other things, she abused her position of trust. (see yesterday’s story for full details)

However, her attorney Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth M. Falk recommends 12 months and one day to be served as home confinement, according to the defense’s 25-page sentencing recommendation filed yesterday in court.

Falk says Julie is “extremely remorseful for taking grant money that she was not authorized to take — particularly since her actions caused” the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to withdraw funding from U’una’i.

Without a doubt, Matau was only authorized to earn a certain salary from U’una’i, “and in no uncertain terms, she colluded with David Wagner, her boss, to pay herself more money than was reported” to either LSC or Justice Department,  the defense points out, adding that she is prepared to accept responsibility for her wrongdoing.

Falk said the money taken by Matau “was money earmarked for an employee who was desperately needed but never hired by U’una’i Board of Directors – a grant manager for the Justice Department Violence Against Woman grant which needed to be applied for, managed, and reported in a similar vein as the LSC grant.”

“Because this employee was never hired, Ms. Matau and... Mr. Wagner ended up doing the job instead — in addition to their regular jobs — and were faced with overwhelming responsibilities far above and beyond their respective reported positions,” the defense contends.

“The reality of the situation was that someone needed to get the work done, and Ms. Matau and Mr. Wagner were the only ones in a position to do that work,” said Falk. “As is often the case, tired and overworked individuals make hugely bad decisions.”

According to the defense Matau and Wagner agreed to compensate each other for the long hours they worked.

For her long hours, according to Falk, “Matau’s fatal flaw was the hubris of believing that because she perceived she was doing the work of two people, she was entitled to be paid as if she was at least one and two-thirds people.”

“If there is one thing Ms. Matau hopes this court will come away believing from the instant sentencing — whatever the outcome — is that Ms. Matau genuinely worked very hard for and loved U’una’i and the clients she was proud to represent,” said Falk. “She hopes the court believes that she advocated for ULSC’s clients in a manner that far exceeded her capabilities as a paralegal.”

According to the defense, Matau was authorized a salary of about  $50,000, and co-signed off on checks to herself with the consent of Wagner for $65,649 more – averaging approximately an extra $32,800 per year, over a two year period.

“That is black and white legally and ethically wrong, and is the reason Ms. Matau now stands before the Court for punishment,” Falk argued. “The shade of grey here is Ms. Matau’s mental state at the time — was she really working hard for the organization and did she believe at the time she was honestly providing the organization additional services above and beyond her call of duty.”

“While this belief does not legally or ethically excuse or justify the overpayment of one’s self, it does bear on the ultimate question of whether Ms. Matau is the heartless thief the government wants her to be, or an otherwise law-abiding, decent human being who made a huge error in judgment that had much farther-reaching consequences than she could have ever anticipated,” Falk points out.

“Ultimately, this is the heart of the question when it comes to meriting out punishment, because this court is charged with punishing a human being and must attempt to discern who that human being is,” said Falk.

The defense also revealed health issues pertaining to Matau, who is also caring for her disabled brother as well as taking care of her other two relatives. Currently, Matau suffers from a non-life threatening but extremely painful illness called lumbar spinal stenosis and as of June 2010, this condition made it impossible for her to walk and she was reduced to wheelchair movement.

She has progressed well in treatment to being able to use a cane to walk short distances, largely due to a bi-monthly treatment of corticosteroid epidural injections to her spine, said Falk, adding that Matau is unemployed and receives disability benefits of approximately $2,000 per month — which is a major source of income to support her family including her disabled brother — and they all live in a modest, two bedroom apartment.

“Her family responsibilities, health issues, remorse for the offense, and disabilities all demonstrate that a sentence short of prison is the humane result here, not simply for Ms. Matau but for her entire family to ensure they are able to remain self-sufficient as a family,” said Falk.

In tomorrow’s edition a look at some inside information from Falk regarding U’una’i operation and board of directors.

ANDREA MATAU DEFENSE

As for Andrea Matau, prosecutors recommend that she serves a term of 12 months probation, to include six months in a halfway house and 400 hours of community service in a program designed to assist victims of domestic violence.

Andrea Matau’s defense urged the court to impose a one-year term of probation under the standard conditions that have been adopted by the court, in addition to 100 hours of community service.



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