Court sentences woman who stole more than $118K from her former employer
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Jennifer Atafua, convicted of stealing more than $118,000 from her former employer, has been ordered to serve 9 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), as a condition of a 5-year probation term, and she must pay the money back directly to her former employer, Forsgren’s Ltd. Inc.
Atafua appeared in High Court yesterday morning for sentencing. Private attorney Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei represented her while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn.
Atafua, who has been in custody since her arrest last October, unable to post a $90,000 surety bond, was charged with stealing and embezzlement, both class C felonies, punishable by up to 7 years in jail, a $5,000 fine or both, for each count.
Under a plea agreement with the government, which was accepted by the court, Atafua pled guilty to stealing. With her guilty plea, Atafua admits that she stole $118,910.30 from Forsgren’s Ltd. Inc. while handling the company’s banking.
According to terms of the plea agreement, on Sept. 3, 2018, the president of Forsgren’s Ltd, Inc. discovered that the company’s bank statements showed an account balance of $61,304.92, while the company’s records showed a balance of $247,525.84
When the company president discovered the discrepancy, he spoke to Atafua who told him that the bank was having problems with their system and they were correcting it. She assured him that once the correction was made, she would provide an updated bank statement for him to review.
The next day, Atafua came clean and told the company president that she had taken the funds for personal use. After hearing the confession, the company president transferred the matter to his office manager for an internal investigation — to verify the difference between the company’s deposit records and bank statements.
The internal investigation revealed that a huge amount of money was missing from the company’s funds. Atafua told the office manager that she had taken $90,000 and she used some of the missing money to pay her store expenses and other things.
But the manager’s internal investigation revealed that the total amount missing was actually $118,910.30
Atafua told police she started taking money in 2015 because she was behind on her car note, and then she started taking money every week, escalating to 2-3 times per week. Atafua was responsible for counting the daily sales for the main store, Koko Bean, Sports Domain, Niuborn, and Carl’s Jr., and she was charged with keeping up with the daily expenses.
Before Atafua addressed the court, her attorney called two witnesses — her husband and a 67-year-old member of her Alofa Tunoa Church in Puapua.
Both witnesses described Atafua as a loving, caring, and humble person, who loves her family, her church, and everyone around her.
Married for 12 years with 2 young children, Atafua’s husband, 38, told the court that he’s willing to assist his wife if the court orders her to pay restitution and a fine. He said he's not employed but he receives an allowance of $300 every week from his church, for his pastoral position.
He told the court he can pay $400 to $500 a month towards his wife’s restitution.
“Despite what happened to my wife, our relationship is still strong and I will continue to support her through this case until everything is resolved,” the husband said.
A teary-eyed Atafua apologized and asked for another chance to be with her family, especially her husband and two young children. She apologized to her husband and kids, her family, church, and especially her former employer.
Uiagalelei asked for a probated sentence, and Prosecutor Dunn agreed. Given the fact that Atafua is in custody and her husband only makes $300 a week from the church, Dunn asked the court to order Atafua to pay $400 a month in restitution, until she is gainfully employed.
Associate Justice Fiti Sunia said Atafua is a person who really understood the impact of her actions — her employee trusted her to fulfill certain duties and do her best, but she failed to do so.
“This was a big error for her when she stole $118,910.30 from her employer, and now after six months in confinement, she has realized how bad her decision was, and she wants to go back home to be with her family,” Sunia said.
He added that this isn't the first time a defendant like Atafua has appeared before the court, for the same type of crime, and the court wants to make clear that it will always treat all cases like this the same.
Atafua was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and fined $2,000, however, execution of sentence is suspended and she is placed on probation for five years subject to certain conditions.
She has to serve 20 months at TCF but 11 months will be stayed, based on good behavior, and she is ordered to serve 9 months. She will be credited the 6 months she spent in pretrial confinement.
She is also ordered to pay restitution of $118,910.30 ($250 per month), to be paid directly to Forsgren's.