Court docs cite unnamed co-conspirator in fed case
American Samoa Special Services Commission’s (ASSSC) “fiscal officer” is a co-conspirator in the federal government’s case against Mine S. Pase, the former executive director of ASSSC who pled guilty on Friday to conspiracy to steal more than $325,000 in AmeriCorps grant funds.
Pase’s plea to one-count criminal information was made before U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton at the federal court in Washington D.C. and she will be sentenced Mar. 23. Pase, who has been released on her own recognizance, is allowed to return to the territory to await sentencing.
Asked about any message from the Justice Department regarding those who misappropriate federal grants, such as in this case, Washington D.C. based Justice Department spokesperson Laura Sweeney told Samoa News on Friday that: “Each case is evaluated independently based on the facts and the law, and we think it is important to ensure federal funds are used appropriately and not for personal gain."
Sweeney declined to comment on whether an investigation continues and whether the Justice Department is looking at charging another person in this case.
According to court documents, the ASSSC established four programs for its mission:
• Read To Me Samoa, which provided literacy tutorials to elementary school, middle school and high school students;
• Log On Samoa (also known as "Love Thy Neighbor") provided computer literacy training to elementary school students;
• Jungle Busters, promoted local plant conservation efforts; and
• HIS Ministries, provided counseling to families of prison inmates.
Court documents further note that between August 2009 and October 2010, “co-conspirator PERSON A” served as the ASSSC Fiscal Officer, who was responsible for, among other things, preparing "draw down" requests for federal funds, travel payment requests, and checks for ASSSC expenses, but did not identify the fiscal officer by name.
Additionally, PERSON A served on the Board of ‘Log On Samoa’ and as part of her responsibilities as a board member, she had signatory authority over Log On Samoa's checking account and signed checks to pay for Log On Samoa's expenses.
TRIPS TO SAMOA
To further the conspiracy, prosecutors claimed that Pase and “her co-conspirators” arranged for Pase, board members of ASSSC and ASSSC staff to receive $78,889 in federal grants to fund trips to Samoa, when Pase and others knew that such expenditures were not authorized under the grants and that ASSSC had no legal authority to use the funds in that manner.
Examples of the amounts of such unauthorized trips cited in court documents: May 25, 2007 - $13,400; April 14, 2008 - $15,960; August 27,2008 - $14,690; April 28, 2010 - $4,450.
PASE’S PER DIEM
As part of the conspiracy, prosecutors further claimed that Pase and her co-conspirators arranged for Pase and ASSSC staff to receive about $109,532 in federal grant funds for official business trips which they did not take. “PERSON A” was also involved in this scheme, said prosecutors.
However, court documents cite only the per diem paid to Pase for trips that prosecutors’ claim she didn’t take. It says that there were four separate payments of per diem to Pase: Mar. 31, 2008 for $2,348; Sept. 25, 2008 for $2,643; Feb. 23, 2009 for $3,494; and Apr. 17, 2009 for $2,914.
Prosecutors also say that Pase and her co-conspirators arranged for Pase and her family members to receive $28,009 as payment for office space used by Log On Samoa and HIS Ministries, and that such office space was severely damaged and in need of repairs.
For instance, court documents state that Pase and “PERSON A” arranged for one of Pase’s relatives to receive four separate payments of $1,250 on Oct. 19. 2010.
Rent payments go back to October 2009 and the largest single check payment was $6,250 made around June 4, 2010, according to court documents.
The government further claims that one of Pase’s daughters (not identified by name in court documents) received $19,665 in payments under a bogus "lease agreement” for a vehicle, when in fact Pase owned and controlled the vehicle which was purportedly being leased by ASSSC.
Court documents state that Pase and “PERSON A” arranged for the payments to come from the checking account of Log on Samoa. The payments started around Sept. 23, 2009 up to May 26, 2010 and most of the payments were in the amount of $400. The largest payment was $1,600 made in May 2010.
Prosecutors also claim that Pase and her co-conspirators arranged for $89,313 to be spent on meals for ASSSC staff, when PASE and others knew that such expenditures were not authorized under the grants and that ASSSC had no legal authority to use the funds in that manner.
According to court documents several payments were made between Dec. 11, 2008 and Jan. 11, 2010 to “Tepora Group” for “unauthorized food purchase”. Payments ranged from the smallest in the amount of $500 to the highest of $1,200.
Samoa News reported in January this year, on an audit released in January 2011, by the Office of Inspector General at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
The audit cited many problems with ASSSC staff and board members, which are also specified in the court documents.
In the Jan. 21 cover letter that accompanied the report, Stuart Axenfeld, the Assistant Inspector General for Audit at OIG informed John Gomperts, director of AmeriCorps, that OIG issued a "management alert" to the Corporation on Sept. 23, 2010, that contained preliminary summary of findings and recommended that the Corporation place an immediate hold on ASSSC's grant drawdowns and prepare to terminate the grants.
The Corporation instead placed a manual hold on ASSSC's Payment Management System account, effective Sept 24, 2010, and noted at that time, it had not yet made a decision on terminating the grants.
A "manual hold" means ASSSC is required to submit proof of appropriate expenses before being allowed access to Federal funds for reimbursement.
It is unknown at this time, if the grants have been terminated.
The ASSSC is considered a State commission, according to the audit report — with the American Samoa Governor having direct authority over ASSSC per the American Samoa Revised Constitution.
OIG said that last year's review questioned more than $400,000 in claimed costs and education awards and the reviewed grants included a $375,000 outlay to ASSSC made under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA).
The auditors reported a lack of financial systems and controls to track and account for federal grant funds.
For example, computers purchased with taxpayer funds for ASSSC's offices were found in the homes of officials and employees, who were also given routine salary advances, overtime pay and compensation for questionable or non-existent official travel, according to an OIG media statement released at the time of the report.
News reports can be found on samoanews.com for more details of the OIG audit report.