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Beware: Woman arrested for alleged visa scam

joy@samoanews.com

Detectives with the Criminal Investigation Division arrested over the weekend Nofo Te’o Utu — who calls herself a Visa Agent — on two charges of stealing, in what appears to be a scam perpetrated upon two male travelers in need of U.S. visas.
 
The stealing charges are both class C felonies punishable by imprisonment up to seven years, a fine of up to $5,000, a fine equal to twice the amount of gain from the commission of said crime up to $20,000— or both fine and imprisonment.
 
Utu, who’s being held on bail of $10,000 made her initial appearance in the District Court yesterday morning. She’s represented by Fiti Sunia, while prosecuting is Assistant Attorney General Julie Pasquale.
 
According to the government’s case on March 2013, "IT" and his wife, upon learning that defendant was an individual Visa Agent, went to her residence and asked for her help in applying for a United States Visa through the U.S. Embassy in Apia, Samoa.
 
It's alleged Utu told the couple that they needed to pay $100 for the processing fee, $150 for the visa application request, $160 for fingerprinting and $150 for IT’s airfare to Samoa.
 
Court filings say, IT paid $560 to defendant in March 2013, where defendant informed IT that she had processed all paperwork for said visa and told IT to get ready for his appointment in Apia.
 
It's alleged the day before IT was scheduled to fly to Apia the defendant called IT, telling him that he would not fly to Apia but instead, defendant would be the one to represent IT and other applicants at the U.S. Embassy in Apia and answer questions on their behalf.
 
The government claims IT and his wife stated that when defendant left and then came back from Apia, she told them that IT’s visa will arrive in two weeks time and more than two weeks passed without a visa confirmation.
 
 IT then contacted defendant again, and this time, according to IT, said defendant gave them different information about when the visa would arrive. She told them it would arrive on multiple occasions all the way up to May 17, 2013, however IT never received his visa.
 
Police also spoke to another complaining witness, identified as "SS" who also paid money to defendant for a U.S. Visa, but he did not get his visa either.
 
SS told CID Detectives, on March 12, 2013 he paid defendant $150 for the Visa Confirmation number, two days later, he gave defendant $100 for the processing fee and $150 for airfare to Apia. It's alleged defendant told SS he would leave for Apia on April 06, 2013 for his interview but when SS spoke with defendant on April 04, 2013 she told SS that he needed to pay $160 more for fingerprinting process, which SS paid.
 
SS further stated that defendant kept changing her story as to when SS would go to Apia for his interview. SS sought assistance from the Department of Public Safety CID Division, under Commander Lavatai Taase Sagapolutele.  
 
CID Detectives spoke to Utu on May 21, 2013 where she said that the appointments had been set for the two male individuals. Police asked defendant about the fees that she charged the victims, and it is alleged that she admitted she had been overcharging the two males.
 
“Defendant stated that she had over-charged the victims and used the money for personal purposes. She also stated she used the money given to her for their airfares and was willing to pay them back in a timely manner."
 
 “Defendant further stated that she had provided them (victims) with false information regarding their visas and wanted to apologize to them for doing it,” say court filings.
 
The government further alleges the defendant admitted to stealing money from IT and SS and also admitted to charging the victims for fees that do not exist.
 
Police spoke to Noue, of the U.S. Embassy in Apia, Samoa, who said that there were applications for a visa or other services received by the U.S. Embassy for IT and SS,  and that a visa application through the U.S. Embassy has only one $160 fee that is to be paid directly to the Embassy. 
 
Noue from the U.S. Embassy also told police that all visa applicants must come in to the U.S. Embassy in person for an interview, and that there is no policy that allows a sponsor to appear on the applicant’s behalf for this requirement.
 



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