Former McConnell Dowell manager to serve 6 months in jail
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Acting Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea has sentenced a former McConnell Dowell manager convicted of stealing money from her former employer, to 6 months detention at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF).
Fonotaga Jasmine Faanu appeared in High Court this past Monday for sentencing. She was represented by private attorney Richard deSaulles of RDA Law Firm, while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General, Christy Dunn.
When given the chance to address the court, the 25-year-old mother of 5 apologized for her actions. She was in tears as she spoke.
Faanu apologized to her former employer for taking advantage of their, and she also apologized to the American Samoa Government, the court, especially her village, church and family for embarrassing their good name.
“As a young mother, I have learned a lot during the 4 1/2 months I have spent in prison. I am remorseful for what I did and wish I can turn back time," she said, adding that living apart from her five young children has been the hardest thing for her; however, she has learned from her mistake and she now realizes that life is too short and prison life is not easy.
Faanu shared that there have been many changes in her family since she was taken into custody. For example, some of her kids are being looked after by her older sister and her husband had to resign from his job to take care of their children.
She told the court that one of the things she's learned is that money cannot buy happiness and a person must decide what is best for themselves while they have the chance.
Faanu asked for a second chance to return home so she can reunite with her family and start a new chapter in her life.
Faanu's eldest sister testified that it's hard having to watch over her sister's kids because sometimes she has to travel off island for medical reasons and when she does, there's nobody to watch the kids.
She said she was shocked when her sister was arrested because she knows her well and knows that she would never do something like this. She said her sister made a mistake and she believes she is truly remorseful.
Faanu's sister asked the court consider her 5 kids when delivering their decision.
Defense attorney deSaulles asked for probation, saying Fa’anu is a young mother with no prior criminal record and she takes full responsibility for her actions.
According to him, of all the company employees who were involved in this case, only Faanu has been terminated.
As for restitution, deSaulles said that based on the affidavit and the arrest warrant, his client paid back $9,000 three days after she was caught by her employer.
He also reminded to the court that his client admitted to altering two company checks ($9,986 and $7,232.48). And based on information that was revealed in court, deSaulles said the remaining amount of restitution his client must pay back to her former employer is $3,225.65.
He said if the company feels that his client owes them more money, they are free to file a civil remedy with the court.
Patea wanted to know from the prosecutor whether the government received any word from the company regarding the restitution the defendant must pay. Dunn said the government only received communication from the company after the court accepted the plea agreement, and if they feel that restitution should be more, they can file for civil remedy.
“Did you consider the fact that the defendant was originally charged with 44 felony counts, but ended up pleading guilty to 2 counts?” Patea asked the prosecutor.
Dunn said that was part of the agreement between the government and defense.
After reviewing all the facts of the case, Patea told the defendant, “We’re not moved by your statement and your sister’s statement. We see a lot of cases like yours coming into this court everyday, and the court has to make the right decision based on the facts that are before us."
Patea told Fa’anu that the court has not lost sight of her situation: a very lucky young woman who come straight out of high school and settling in to a high paying job.
“Your employer put all of his trust in you; however, you violated that trust,” Patea said.
Fa’anu was originally charged with 22 counts of stealing, and 22 counts of forgery — all class C felonies. But under a plea agreement with the government, she pled guilty to one count of stealing and one count of forgery. All other charges were dismissed.
The court sentenced Fa’anu to 7 years for each count. The imprisonment term is to run concurrently. However, execution of sentence is suspended, and Fa’anu is placed on probation for seven years, subject to certain conditions.
She must serve 28 months at the TCF without any release. However, all but 12 months is stayed, meaning Fa'anu will only serve 6 months, as she is credited for the nearly 6 months she spent in pretrial confinement.
She was also ordered to pay restitution of $3,225.65.
Associate Judges Satele Lili’o Satele and Suapaia Pereira accompanied Patea in handling down the sentence.
Fa'anu was accused of stealing more than $400,000 from McConnell Dowell while she was working there. The defendant told a special investigator from New Zealand that she used some of the money to renovate her house, and some was given to family members and friends.
The alleged crime was uncovered after ANZ Bank contacted a company representative to verify a check Fa'anu was trying to cash. It was revealed in court during the defendant’s preliminary examination hearing earlier this year in May that she altered 22 checks from her former employer and cashed the checks for personal use.
It was also revealed that the alleged check scheme started in 2013 and continued until February this year. According to the government, the amount of each check the defendant allegedly cashed ranged from $4,400 up to $9,986.56.