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Ifopo gets 24 months in jail and has to pay restitution for fraud

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — An American Samoa woman accused of bilking the federal government out of more than $100,000 by filing false tax returns for American Samoa residents with the US Internal Revenue Service has been ordered to serve jail time and pay restitution.

Corina F. Ifopo, who resides in Honolulu, appeared yesterday afternoon for sentencing before US Chief District Judge, Timothy M. Burgess, at the federal court in Anchorage, Alaska, where she pled guilty last year to 28 counts of filing false tax returns for residents of American Samoa who don't quality to receive the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Assistant US Attorney for Alaska, Andrea T. Steward said Burgess ordered Ifopo to serve 24 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. She is also ordered to pay restitution.

“Chief Judge Burgess noted [at sentencing] that the crimes are extremely serious and he hoped to deter others from doing this type of tax fraud crime,” Steward said via email from Anchorage after the 2p.m. sentencing yesterday.

“The [US] Department of Justice also hopes to deter others from committing this type of crime” with Ifopo’s sentence, according to Steward, who had sought a 24-month jail term and $167,574 in restitution, while the defense sought restitution and one-year plus one day in jail.

Assistant Federal Public Defender, Jamie McGrady, who represented Ifopo, didn’t immediately respond to Samoa News inquiries.

In a brief news release yesterday, announcing Ifopo’s sentence, U.S. Attorney for Alaska, Bryan Schroder announced that Ifopo has been sentenced for filing approximately 200 fraudulent tax returns on behalf of other individuals living in American Samoa, seeking over $1 million in fraudulent returns.

As part of its sentencing memorandum, the defense submitted to the court several letters of support and character witnesses for Ifopo, and among them was her husband, Kelemete Ifopo, who works in the territory.

The husband first expressed appreciation to Burgess for allowing his wife to visit the territory last December for the holidays, saying it was great “to see my families and friends gathered as one, welcoming Corina in a mixed emotional embrace.

“Everyone shed tears of joy, happiness and sadness, knowing that Corina stepped up to take the blame for the horrendous and an unpleasant ordeal,” he wrote. “Only if Corina could have listened to me; instead she took side with her families and friends.”

The husband blamed himself for “not being able to stop this horrific experience from happening” and apologized “for not being strong and man enough to make a difference.”

“I do believe Corina has seen the light, she has full remorse towards the inconvenience, Your Honor. I can feel her heartbeat fill with deep painful regrets. I apologize on her behalf and sadly beg for your forgiveness,” he concluded.

Another letter came from Rep. Faimealelei Anthony F. Allen, who vouched for the defendant’s “character” from a family chief, saying he has known Ifopo for over 40 years.

“One of the main characteristics that I have noticed and admired from Corina was her love and devotion to family and her faith,” he said. “Love, devotion, family, and faith are the roots of our foundation for the Samoan culture and Corina Ifopo represents those roots.

“But sometimes that love for family is blind and in that blindness it can lead you to go against those roots, which I believe is what happened to Corina. I was shocked to learn about her case because it was so out of character for her,” he said.

Faimealelei pointed to the defendant’s “people skills” which the faipule said helped her as a customer service representative for over 20 years at Bluesky Communications.

“Her smiling face, warm personality, and a ‘can-do attitude’ all contribute to the person she is. She is loved and respected by her colleagues, customers, and people from different walks of life,” he said.

A handful of her former colleagues at Bluesky also wrote letters of support, describing her as a “go-to” service representative and many customers preferred to be served by Ifopo, who had resigned and moved to Alaska with her family.

Ifopo’s younger sister, Sopo Lolomatauama, described the defendant as “a unique individual in her own way,” adding that Ifopo “is always smiling, has joyful spirit, determined, confident, yet humble and a lovable human being.”

“I have learned how we, humans, likely make simple mistakes in life,” Lolomatauama wrote. “Some mistakes are meant to be learned as lessons and some come as consequences.”

“Many know my sister as a humble, loving, and caring person. She has never committed any harm or crime in this life but through her kindness, she has conducted a simple mistake in the form of helping others,” Lolomatauama said. “May this letter be of help to lessen her sentence.”