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Former ASESRO employee admits stealing and forging checks

A former government employee who forged and cashed checks belonging to another government employee — who was off island — to the tune of $7,000 has admitted to  committing the crime. Fiapapalgi Eteuati Letuli of Ili’ili, who worked for the American Samoa Economic Stimulus Development Recovery office (ASESRO) was in court for her change of plea hearing.


Initially she was charged with 16 criminal counts of forging government checks from ASESRO. The 16 counts included eight counts of felony stealing and eight counts of forgery  which are all class C felonies punishable by up to seven years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, a fine equal to the amount gained of the said crime up to the $20,000 or both fine and jail time.


In the plea deal with the government, which was read in open court, Letuli pleaded guilty to one count of stealing and one count of forgery, while the remaining 14 counts were dismissed as part of the plea.


According to the government, the case was launched at the request of ASESRO Director Pat Galea’i and on Feb. 15, 2012 the Attorney General’s office was assigned to investigate allegations the defendant had forged and cashed ASG payroll checks made out to another ASESRO employee — Gale Clarke, who was on leave.


Court filings say Galea’i told the investigator Clarke has been on leave without pay from January 2011 to July 2011 for medical issues, however ASG payroll checks for the same period were still being generated in her name and cashed. Court filings state the Director confronted the defendant, given that she’s the one responsible for how the payroll checks for Clarke were issued.


It’s alleged the defendant admitted she had submitted time sheets and sick leave slips in the name of Clarke by signing her name, despite knowing Clarke was on medical leave.


The investigator also spoke to the defendant, who admitted she had prepared the paperwork in order to get ASG payroll checks run in the name of Clarke. “Defendant admitted she stole the money in order to pay loans, to meet church obligations, to meet family obligations and many other reasons” say court filings.


The investigator also spoke to Clarke who confirmed her medical leave without pay time period and that she did not give consent to the defendant to process any paperwork for her to receive a payroll check, nor had she given defendant permission to sign her name to cash the payroll checks.


The government claims there are a total of eight checks issued beginning January 14, 2011 to August 5, 2011 which totaled $7,860.65.


During the plea hearing yesterday, the defendant admitted she stole payroll checks from another government employee who was off island taking leave without pay, and that she had submitted leave for Clarke allowing the ASG paychecks to be processed.


Chief Justice Michael Kruse accepted the plea agreement and scheduled sentencing for Letuli on Feb. 7, 2014.