One of the 3 women who stole from Western Union is going to jail
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — One of the three former Western Union (WU) employees accused of stealing is going to jail.
Judy Leilua Tautalaga, 41, from Samoa who has resided in the territory since she was a baby, was ordered by the High Court this week to serve 28 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility as a condition of a 7-year probation sentence.
Submissions from her attorney, Acting Public Defender Michael White say Tautalaga is a loving, young mother who made a terrible mistake but prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Robert Morris told the court the defendant was the ringleader in this case.
Tautalaga was initially charged with two counts each of embezzlement and stealing — all class C felonies — but she pled guilty to one count of embezzlement under a plea agreement with the government.
She told the court that on May 31, 2016 while working at Western Union, she embezzled USD$14,000 from the company in two separate transactions of $7,000 each.
She admits she stole the money by taking it from customers intending to send the funds to their families outside of American Samoa.
Charges against Tautalaga and her two female co-defendants came about after the Western Union Group Risk and Compliance Manager travelled from New Zealand to investigate a complaint filed by a customer involving USD$7,000.
It was later discovered the defendant stole the money.
Tautalaga confessed to her supervisor that she stole and used the $7,000 for her sister’s funeral. While reviewing the complaint, it was revealed that two other employees stole money from the company. The matter was then referred to police.
The victim, an Asian customer, told police he went to the Western Union office in Nu’uuli to make two separate transactions, each $7,000 to be sent to a friend in China. One transaction went through but the other Tautalaga put on hold and told him the money would be available in 30 days.
When given the chance to speak in court, Tautalaga apologized to her former employer for breaching their trust when she stole money from the customer. She also apologized to her family and the people of American Samoa.
“The 3 months and 22 days I spent in jail taught me a great lesson — that prison is not a good place for me to be. I learned a lot from my mistake and I promise I will never make this mistake again. I want to change my life and move on, so please, give me another chance so I can go home and seek employment to pay back the money I stole,” Tautalaga said.
Her cousin also took the stand and apologized to the court on Tautalaga’s behalf.
He said his family brought Tautalaga from Samoa when she was a baby and she stayed with them the whole time. He said he considers her a sister, and their whole family was saddened when the incident came to light.
Defense attorney White asked the court for a light sentence, saying his client is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence because this is her first criminal conviction. He also asked the court to consider his client’s early plea to the charges against her, and the fact that she’s truly remorseful for her actions and takes full responsibility for what she did.
“Every time I spoke to my client about this case, she would always tell me she’s truly remorseful for what she did and she wishes nothing happened. My client was a hardworking young woman who made a terrible mistake and she’s asking the court for a second chance to prove that she can do better in the future,” White told the court.
The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Tautalaga to 7 years probation under the condition that she serve time at the TCF. He said although this was the defendant’s first criminal conviction, out of the 3 females who were charged in this case, Tautalaga is the ringleader.
“When one of her co-defendants was caught, the defendant tried to cover up her co-defendant’s actions by stealing money from other customers to fill in what was stolen from the previous customers,” Morris told the court.
Acting Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea said the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) contains essential information that will be good mitigating factors for Tautalaga.
The PSR contained a report from the Immigration Office, which noted the defendant’s current status in American Samoa, and also a statement from Western Union, asking the court to order Tautalaga to pay back the money she stole from them.
The court's sentence is as follows: Tautalaga is placed on 7 years probation under the condition that she serves 28 months in jail. All but 12 months will be stayed.
Upon release from the TCF, Tautalaga has to obtain gainful employment within 60 days, and she has to pay restitution of $14,000 to Western Union.
“Tautalaga, this is your chance to prove to the court that you’re truly remorseful for what you did by complying with all conditions of your probation. If you fail to comply with any one of these conditions, your probation will be revoked and the court will order you to serve the maximum period of detention,” Patea warned.