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Feds recommend jail time, restitution of $32,000 for Wagner’s role in U’una’i theft

fili@samoanews.com

Federal prosecutors have recommended that the former acting boss of U’una’i Legal Service Corporation be sentenced to less than one year in prison and pay restitution for his role in the stealing of about $160,000 in federal funds awarded to the non-profit group, that was closed a couple of years ago.

David Wagner, who served at U’una’i’s acting executive director between May 2005 and September 2007, pled guilty Mar. 11, 2010 at the federal court in St. Louis Missouri to one count of theft of federal funds totaling $31,292. 

Sentencing for Wagner has been postponed several times while the case against his co-defendants, Julie Matau and her daughter Andrea Matau was before the federal court in Oakland, Calif. The mother and daughter were sentenced Tuesday this week while Wagner is now scheduled for sentencing next Monday.

According to the government, Wagner personally received about $31,292 in federal grant funds, all of which constituted payment in excess of his lawful salary. In exchange, Wagner agreed to sign blank U’una’i checks for Julie Matau’s use.

“Wagner abdicated his responsibility for monitoring Julie Matau’s check-writing activities, and this allowed Julie Matau to write checks to herself and her relatives,” said prosecutors, who added that, although Wagner’s close to $32,000 accounts for only a portion of the nearly $160,000 in stolen funds, “he is largely responsible for the money received” by his co-defendants and their relatives.

“...rather than exercise the duty of care and diligence that was required of his sensitive and highly-respected position, Wagner greedily requested and received, unlawful payments from Julie Matau—and, in return for the money, he turned a blind eye on Julie Matau’s spending activities,” said prosecutors and reiterated that the “theft of federal funds in this case is outrageous” because these much needed U.S. tax payer dollars were sent to provide support to low income persons in American Samoa where the 2010 per capita income was $3,791.

As the acting U’una’i executive director, “Wagner earned about $55,000 a year, which placed him among the highest paid individuals on island and situated him as a prominent member of the American Samoa Bar [Association],” said prosecutors.

“That Wagner decided to steal an additional $32,000 from funds intended to benefit the abused victims whom he represented is one of the most perplexing—and disturbing— aspects of this entire case,” said prosecutors.

While the government has been unable to locate statistics concerning the average household income in American Samoa between 2005 and 2007, prosecutors said some of the witnesses of these events told federal investigators that the average person in the territory earned less than $8,000 per year during this time.

“Assuming this is the case, Wagner and the Mataus stole almost twenty times what the average American Samoan earned in a year,” according to prosecutors, who also cited problems concerning  Wagner during his pre trial release.

According to the government the federal Pretrial services Office filed seven notices of pretrial release violations by Wagner between December 2010 and February 2012. For example, two for failure to seek employment; four for failure to attend court-ordered mental health sessions; and another for apparently committing a state offense, based on a warrant for Wagner’s arrest for failure to appear.

A footnote in the government’s motion states that the defense believes Wagner was not convicted of an offense while on pretrial release and the defense plans to work with the defendant to resolve this matter.

“In light of Wagner's egregious conduct, the unfortunate impact of his unlawful conduct on the people of American Samoa, the need to deter other public and private officials in American Samoa who may be tempted to abuse their positions for personal gain, and Wagner's apparent lack of remorse for his criminal conduct, the court should sentence Wagner to 10 months imprisonment,” prosecutors urged the court.

“In addition, the Court should order Wagner to pay $31,292 in restitution” in accordance with provisions of his plea agreement with the government, they say.



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