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ASCA employees ask USDOL to investigate NHHC/CIC

Although the Native Hawaiian Holding Company (NHHC)/ Community Investment Corporation (CIC), General Manager Michel McDonald claims they have no affiliation with American Samoa Culinary Academy employees hired under the National Emergency Grant (NEG) program, a letter has been sent by these employees to the US Department of Labor's Janice Shordike asking for an investigation to be conducted into NHHC/CIC, claiming mistreatment of employees and misuse of grant funds.


The letter was sent Friday, March 29, 2013, according to the spokesperson for the ASCA- NEG employees, Karalina Prendergast, a former NHHC employee who was transferred to ASCA as an administrator.


NHHC signed the contract with the government to provide training and employment in the contact center industry for 900 NEG participants and authorized it to operate job placement and supportive services in a setting that would serve as part of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Workforce System. ASCA employees were hired under the NEG program.


McDonald told Samoa News via email that NHHC/CIC was providing only a payroll service for ASCA and does not have any ownership in ASCA. “These services have since stopped as ASCA is now closed due to financial difficulties,” he said.


However, according to the letter sent to the USDOL, ASCA employees that were hired under the NEG program, say they have yet to be paid since CIC took over in January.


According to the letter, NHHC came to American Samoa under the management of a Samoan couple, Michael McDonald and Paula Stevenson-McDonald, in March of 2012.


“There was a contract agreement and MOU between the American Samoa Government (ASG) Department of Human Resources (DHR) and NHHC to provide training, career placement, and to use the grant money of the National Employment Grant (NEG) Program to do so, however, no training was conducted and careers were made to few,” states the letter.


The letter further notes that CIC was led by Quin Rudin, who has since been arrested on allegations of fraud and identity theft in San Diego. CIC was the lead or “mother company” under which NHHC, American Samoan Culinary Academy (ASCA), Manu’a Health Systems (MHS), and EMLA operated, the letter points out.


“On January 24, ASCA was taken over by CIC, except they paid employees 'under the table' basically with homemade pay stubs and partial payments due to lack of funding," the letter alleges, adding that they "currently owe ASCA employees a total of $11,455.50."


 “They have refused to give copies of time cards to employees, because there are also unpaid time as well as SSN mess ups that they have been requested to fix, but never were. Pay rates were also changed without prior notice, just made and reported to employees the day of payroll."


Pointing to misuse of grant/ program funds, the letter notes that in September, two employees were transferred from NHHC to ASCA as administrative assistants.


Also, in partnership with NHHC, ASCA was given a list of prospective employees, who had previously graduated from the local Academy held in 2011 and early 2012, and employees who had similar skill sets. This list were participants of the NEG, "however ASCA management was told after hiring employees who were more qualified, but not on the NEG list, that they were only to hire NEG participants."


The letter notes that NHHC and ASCA, were considered 'sister' companies, who were to work with each other. It alleges, "Funding has been crossed over between companies including grant and wired money. When CIC took over ASCA January 24, 2013, the program managers had made all the shots for the restaurants, not just payroll,” says the letter.  


“There are also a total of 25 vendors who have yet to be paid because of lack of funds in the total amount of $23,308.33, which includes utilities, outstanding rent, and charge accounts.”


The letter indicates that ASCA employees also have on hand documents of payroll and payables, which our “admin staff” had worked on prior to resigning.


The letter further explains that NHHC had started the OJT (On the Job Training) program with local business, where they would pay employment wages for 10 weeks, and afterward, the employers would take over on payroll.


Currently, CIC/NHHC has yet to pay employees due to lack of funding and delay of funding availability. Both program managers (referring to the McDonalds) are currently working out of the Riverside CIC office, and "employees have been let go with no documentation, explanation, and/or reasoning."


The letter also says there was an undocumented meeting between ASCA employees and CIC program managers after CIC took over ASCA.


“We are requesting your assistance and advice in moving forward to collect payment for both employees and vendors," says the letter.


“Also, equipment that was owned by our boss (Chef Sualua Tupolo) was moved to the NHHC office and other locations without consulting ASG (Owner of a lot of the equipment) or ASCA Lead Chef Sualua Tupolo.


“There are documents we have in regards to financials, laying off, and email correspondence should you need them. In taking over ASCA, CIC has collected all personnel, payroll, and financial documents."


 “There are other companies like ASCA involved, in which you would have to go to their staff and leaders for further details,” says the letter. The letter is cc’d to Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga, ASG Director Department of Human Resources Le’i Sonny Thompson, Chief Workforce Investment Div., US Dept. of Labor/ETA Rosemary Cowen, Equal Employment Officer (EEO) Kereti Mata’utia and ASNEG Program Manager Tuimavave Tauapa’i Laupola.


In the meantime, Chef Sualua Tupolo who came in earlier this week, is currently working together with Human Resources Director Le’i Sonny Thompson to return close to $50,000 worth of equipment that was used at the American Samoa Culinary Academy following a lease agreement signed between Sualua and former governor Togiola Tulafono. 


Le’i informed Samoa News that Sualua came to see him in his office, to return all of the government equipment that was leased to ASCA. As Samoa News reported earlier, the DHR Director said the government moved to cancel the lease for non-compliance with the lease agreement.


The equipment (ovens, pots, pans, kitchenware) was bought by the government with National Employment Grant (NEG) funding with the goal to have Sualua conduct cooking courses that would in turn allow the students to gain employment as chefs and cooks — yet Sualua failed to fulfill this obligation, according to Le’i. 


Last week Saturday, employees of ASCA met at Maliu Mai to discuss what they need to do in order to be paid for their services as employees and yesterday, about 20 ASCA employees met DHR Director Le’i, Deputy Director Eseneiaso Liu and HR NEG Assistant Manager Makerita Enesi.


Samoa News will report on this meeting in tomorrow’s edition.