Arrest warrant seeks former Immigration Officer
An arrest warrant has been issued against former Immigration Officer Lagitafa Holi alleging misappropriating of immigration bond funds to the tune of $30,000. However Samoa News understands that Holi — who worked in the Immigration Office for over ten years, including as a cashier — has since fled to New Zealand.
Samoa News understands that currently there are efforts in place to extradite the accused from New Zealand. Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop declined to comment on the matter.
The bail set for the accused is $50,000 and she’s charged with one count of embezzlement and one charge of forgery which are both class C felonies, which are punishable by up to seven years, a fine of up to $5,000, or a fine equal to twice the amount gained from the commission up to $20,000.
According to the government’s case, on Sept. 11, 2012 former Attorney General Fepulea’i Arthur Ripley Jr assigned an investigator with the Attorney General’s office to look into allegations that the accused was suspected of falsifying immigration bonds and pocketing money as a result. The court filings say that the investigating officer, Fa’aua’a K Elisara noted that when someone posted an immigration bond, the immigration cashier would use a three-layer receipt.
The top copy is white and is the original; it is the customer’s copy. The middle layer and bottom layer of the receipt are yellow and pink and they are, respectively, the Audit Copy and Office copy. It's alleged the accused would tear off the top copy (the white customer copy) and she would fill that out with the bond amount for a Chinese immigrant, which is $2,300.
Then she would fill out the remaining two layers of the receipt in the amount of $147, which is the bond amount for a Samoa immigrant. She would then pocket the difference in the amounts, or take the whole amount.
The investigating officer spoke with an employee of the governor’s office at the time, Gaea Perefoti Failautusi, who noted that the situation had been reported to him by the former Territorial Internal Audit Officer.
Failautusi showed the investigating office the bond receipt with number 2323543, on the customer copy. It had the amount of $2,300 with the sponsor's name and the Chinese immigrant's name. However, the other two copies had the amount of $147 with the sponsor name and a Samoa immigrant's name.
The three receipts had the same dates, May 6, 2010 with the accused's signatures on all three receipts indicating that she was the one preparing the receipts.
Court filings say, that several immigration employees identified the signature and handwriting as the defendant’s. It’s alleged the accused was the cashier at the immigration office and was transferred to the airport when the situation at hand was brought to light, say court documents.
Court filings say Failautusi told the investigator that he spoke with a man who was in the process of getting a permanent resident status for his children who sought the assistance of the accused given that they attended the same church. The man further stated that his daughter paid $147 to the accused and was not provided with a receipt even after repeated requests to the accused.
Failautusi also told the investigating officer that another immigration bond — receipt number 5652 — had all three copies dated Mar. 31, 2011. The white copy for customer listed the sponsor as a corporation who was sponsoring a Chinese man with the bond paid of $2,300.
However the yellow and pink copies were again in the name of a Samoan sponsor, who was sponsoring a Samoa immigration with the bond of $147. Once again, the signatures on these receipts were those of the defendant say court filings.
The investigating officer questioned the defendant about receipt number 5652, where she admitted it was her signature on the receipts, and she admitted taking the $2,300.
Court filings say that the investigating officer also interviewed the Chinese man who paid the first bond of $2,300 and he was certain that it was the defendant who was the cashier at the time. He provided the copy of the check to the investigating officer which was dated Mar. 31, 2011.
In December 2011, Failautusi provided the investigating officer a list of 17 receipts where it was suspected the defendant had falsified the bond amounts on the Audit and Office copies and pocketed the difference between the $2,300 bond amounts on the original and $147 on the audit/office copies.
“All 17 purport to have the defendant’s signatures; the list of 17 receipts includes the two described above. The dates of the 17 receipts range from April 14, 2010 to October 12, 2011 and the total amount of these receipts is $39,100,” says court filings.
According to court documents, on September 2010 the investigating officer met with the accused and she was read her Miranda rights and agreed to be interviewed.
“Defendant said she never thought of stealing until her father called her from Western Samoa demanding cash for a family matter. So she figured out a way to take money from the cash register."
Court filings say the defendant said she would take money from Chinese bonds, which are $2,300 and she would record the cash on a miscellaneous transmittal letter, instead of the bond transmittal letter which is supposed to be used for bonds.
“By not using the proper letter, she was able to avoid detection of her scheme since the customer took the original receipt. Because the customer had the original receipt the defendant said she was sure that what she was doing couldn’t be detected by audit,” court filings say.
The investigating officer showed the defendant the receipt with the number 2323543 and she admitted she tore off the original copy to avoid detection on the yellow and pink carbon copies and she didn’t remember if the bond was paid in cash or check, but she admitted that she took $2,300.
Court filing says, the defendant was given receipt number 5652, and “she just wept and cried and kept saying 'I'm sorry' ”. The defendant admitted the bond should have been recorded on the bond transmittal letter but she did it on the miscellaneous letter to avoid being caught and admitted she took $2,300 for this bond, say court documents.