Check forger sentenced to 28 months in jail

Stole $5,100 from his uncle
ausage@samoanews.com

A 42-year-old man who was convicted for stealing more than $5,000 from his uncle’s bank account by stealing his uncle’s checks and forging his signature is going to jail.

Paulo Lauti was initially charged with 5 counts of forgery, and 5 counts of stealing — all felonies. Each count is punishable by not more than 7 years imprisonment, and/ or a fine of not more than $5,000 or both.

However, under a plea agreement with the government, which was accepted by the Court last month, the defendant pled guilty to one count of forgery and one count of stealing, both felonies. In return for his plea of guilty, the government then asked to court to dismiss the remaining counts, which was also accepted by the court.

It was the victim, Laloulu Tagoilelagi, who reported the case to police on July 11, 2017, after he discovered that a huge amount of money was missing from this Bank of Hawaii account.

Prosecuting the case was the Assistance Attorney General Robert Morris, while Deputy Public Defender Michael White represented Lauti, who was still in custody since his arrest in September, unable to post a $5,000 surety bond.

During his sentencing, Lauti apologized to the court for his actions and begged for a second chance to return home to care for his wife and children. He also apologized to his uncle, who was the victim in this case, for stealing monies from him. Lauti said that he was truly remorseful for what he did, and he had learned his lesson from the two (2) months he was in jail.

His wife also took the stand and asked the court for a chance to allow her husband to come back home to help her with the family and to take care of their two little children. Lauti’s wife told the court that her husband was a good man, who just made a bad decision. She also said that for the 2 months her husband has been in jail, she knows that he has learnt his lesson; and that she’s doing everything in her power to make to make sure her husband pays restitution to his uncle.

When asked by White about arrangements she has made re to pay full restitution, the wife told the court that her husband has already submitted his resignation papers to this employer, (ASPA), and the money from his resignation and his final pay check will be used to pay the restitution. And if there is any balance, she will make arrangements to make sure that amount paid in full too.

White told the court that his client had made a bad mistake by taking money from his uncle. He told the court that Lauti has no prior criminal record, and he’s a suitable candidate for a probated sentence. In closing, he asked the court to sentence Lauti to a probated sentence of 7 years, without imposing any more jail term.

Prosecutor Morris agreed that Lauti is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence; and also told the court that after he spoke to the victim about this case, the victim told him that he was very upset with his nephew for what he have done. Morris said that the victim’s main concern was that, he (victim) was suspicious that his nephew is involved in illegal activities such as drugs, and his drug problem needs to be addressed and resolved.

Morris asked the court that as a condition for Lauti’s probation, he submit himself for drug testing, to make sure he stays clean at all times.

According to the presiding High Court judge, Elvis Patea, “Based on information before the court… an imprisonment term is not warranted in this case, probation is warranted, but given the amount … taken and the way this amount was taken, the court feels that your action must be punished.”

Lauti was then sentenced to 7 years probation, on the condition that he serves 28 months at the TCF. Twenty-two months will be stayed, and Lauti was ordered to serve only 6 months, credited for the 2 months that he already served at TCF. He was ordered to pay restitution on the amount of $5,100. Further condition of his probation, he has to submit himself for drug testing to make sure he stays clean during his probation.

According to court documents, $5,100 was missing from the victim’s bank account, and the victim had a hard time trying to figure out how it happened.

It was when Tagoilelagi received his bank statement at the end of the month, that he realized someone had withdrawn money from his bank account without his permission.

The victim told investigators that five checks were stolen from his personal checkbook and all were cashed at Bank of Hawaii — without his consent.

Court documents show that the first check was dated May 23, 2017 in the amount of $1,600. The second check was dated June 1st, for $1,200; a third check for $600 was dated June 5th, followed by a fourth check, dated June 30th, for $1,300; and the last check was dated July 3rd in the amount of $400.

Police reviewed records from the bank pertaining to the transactions, and a bank teller who provided information to investigators said the checks were paid to the order of an individual named Paulo Lauti, the defendant in this case, who is also the victim's nephew.

It was revealed through bank records that the defendant allegedly forged the victim’s signature, and used his American Samoa driver’s license to cash the checks.

Police were also provided with a signed letter that the defendant gave to his uncle, apologizing to him for forging and cashing his checks, with a promise to pay his money back, and begging for his forgiveness.

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