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U’una’i understaffed, unsophisticated “triage” center says Matau defense

Alleged no oversight from Board of Directors either
fili@samoanews.com

Defense attorney for defendant Julie Matau has claimed that U’una’i Legal Service Corporation (ULSC) was a not a sophisticated organization set up to comply with federal reporting requirements, but instead was “operated largely as a triage center” whose board of directors ignored their duties several years ago.

Matau’s attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Elizabeth Falk made the claim in the defense’s 25-page sentencing statement filed last Wednesday at the federal court in Oakland, Calif., where the defendant and her daughter Andrea Matau will be sentenced tomorrow after pleading guilty last December in connection with stealing about $160,000 in federal grant money given to U’una’i.

The non-profit legal corporation was closed a couple of years ago due to the stolen money.

A third defendant in this case, David Wagner, the former U’una’i boss, will be sentenced Apr. 2 at the federal court in Springfield, Missouri.

According to Julie Matau’s defense motion, the history of U’una’i is relevant to the court’s determination of the offense for which Julie Matau is accused. It provided a long history of U’una’i prior to September 2005 and states that the defendant started with U’una’i in 2000 after earning  a paralegal certificate in 1999.

Between 2000 and 2004, U’una’i was funded by the Justice Department and the Administration for Native Americans (ANA). As was the case during the time period relevant to the indictment, the two grants contemplated funding separate positions and at least in theory, the two grants contemplated the hiring of separate staff to manage each grant.

However, the defense says the pattern and practice of the organization was for all staff to work on both grants on an as-needed basis. (This claim is based on information by a former U’una’i attorney.)

The defense further states that the nature of the organization was that there was always far more work to do than staff available, and attorneys handled cases as they were available and on site, avoiding the bureaucracy that would have arisen had long lines of clientele been forced to wait for a particular attorney — funded to handle their particular problem — to return from court.

According to the defense, this “pragmatic approach” was also confirmed by Toetagata Albert Mailo, who served as U’una’i executive director until 2005.

“The reality of ULSC was that it was a not a sophisticated organization set up to neatly comply with stringent federal reporting requirements. It was a non profit legal services organization that operated largely as a triage center,” Falk claimed. “The goal was to help as many indigent clients with complicated legal problems as resources would allow – not to spend the workday ensuring that busy attorneys and staff kept accurate time records as to which grant should pay for a certain client’s legal problem.”

“And as acknowledged by almost all government witnesses — from [Toetagata] Albert Mailo to David Wagner — the administrative problems at ULSC were compounded by an acknowledged lack of Board [of directors] oversight,” she said.

Until the new board of directors took over in 2007, the prior board with oversight of U’una’i “hardly met and played virtually no role in the direction and management of the organization,” Falk said.

“Because the Board was charged with hiring individuals to fill grant positions, the lack of Board interest and direction additionally meant that ULSC was perpetually understaffed because there were no Board meetings and no quorum to sign off on new hires,” she said. “This further increased the workload of already staffed ULSC employees to meet clients’ needs, which left even less time for administrative work necessary to ensure grant compliance and accurate reporting requirements.”

Falk cited a memorandum of an interview by Wagner, who stated that the board “did not care” that U’una’i was “grossly understaffed”.

When U’una’i lost its ANA funding in 2003, the office manager at the time sought an alternate funding source and found the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which along with the DOJ domestic violence grant served as ULSC’s funding source during the time period of the indictment.

According to the defense, LSC funding came with stringent requirements, and only legal permanent residents, U.S. nationals, or U.S. citizens residing in the territory were eligible for help, while most of the individuals who sought U’una’i’s help “were not people with legal status to be in American Samoa”.

Falk says that in the time period of 2006 thru 2007, Wagner and Julie Matau “made the inexcusable and ethically wrong decision that they should engage in a self-help remedy to ensure their fair compensation for the job they perceived they were doing.”

“Essentially, the two determined that they were doing the work of four people, and should receive extra compensation for that work, in the face of irritation and anger that the Board of Directors was absent to hear their complaints and no one else at ULSC was drowning in the sea of LSC reporting demands,” the defense said. 

Because Andrea Matau often worked closely by her mother’s side, Julie Matau also erroneously determined that Andrea too was entitled to extra payments for her time, said Falk.

“As her mother’s dedicated support structure, Andrea Matau followed custom in American Samoa and accepted her mother’s decisions regarding work and compensation without question,” said Falk, who points out that after Julie Matau was terminated, she immediately paid back $22,000 of the money she and Andrea were accused to have taken in an effort to extract Andrea Matau from criminal liability.

ANDREA MATAU

In its sentencing statement, Andrea Matau’s defense says that between August 2005 and September 2007, she was paid approximately $24,600 more than she was authorized to receive in salary under the DOJ and LSC grants.

“Her mother, Julie, wrote checks totaling this amount from ULSC to Ms. [Andrea] Matau and directed that the checks be deposited into Matau family accounts,” said her attorneys in the statement. “According to Samoan custom, all of the Matau family’s earnings were pooled for the collective use of the household, which Julie managed and controlled.”

The defense points out that it’s undisputed that Andrea Matau played a minimal role in the offense involving her mother and points out that the 28-year old — since returning to California in 2009 — has re-enrolled in school and is presently pursuing an A.A. degree from City College of San Francisco.

She has performed extensive community service at Next Door Shelter for the Homeless, North Peninsula Neighborhood Services, and area food banks. Additionally, she has been a model citizen with no law-enforcement contacts, pretrial-release violations, or other deviations from a law-abiding lifestyle.



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