Retailer tries to hide ballooning food stamp transactions
The government's case against two employees of the Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS) and an Asian businessman over an alleged scheme to defraud the food stamp program reveals that another businessman — yet to be arrested and charged — was lured into the alleged scam, and was never paid or collected money for providing assistance to his ‘good friend’.
Included as part of the government’s affidavit of support is Information from a spreadsheet created by the DHSS inquiry team into the alleged scheme, which points to questionable transactions in the six-figure range spread out among three retail stores.
(Samoa News has chosen not to reveal the name of the second storeowner until such time he is arrested and charged formally.)
The three defendants in this case — so far — are Vincent Toeava, Jane Vasa, and Liren Zhang a.k.a Kevin, owner of JFL Malae Store and Fast By Food Mart.
The trio remains in custody at the TCF, unable to post bond. Vasa’s bail is set at $10,000 while Toeava and Kevin are being held at $450,000 each.
According to court documents, sometime during October 2017, defendant Kevin approached the other business owner's wife and asked for help in depositing food stamp coupons in their store account and giving him the redemption. Kevin allegedly told the woman that he had too many customers with food stamps that he needed help with.
The woman allegedly agreed.
Kevin told police that last November, when the storeowner returned from China, he approached the storeowner and asked him to do the same.
The storeowner told police he agreed to do it because Kevin is "a good friend". He added that he was not paid nor did he collect any money for providing said assistance.
In the affidavit, Kevin told police that he spoke to his business acquaintance to help him out with the deposits in October 2017 — hence the reason why the other business’ account didn't spike until that month.
When asked why he even bothered to embark on this arrangement, Kevin told police the dollar amount of the food stamps he was getting was too much and he had to direct attention away from him.
He said his friend deposited the coupons and gave him the redemption via cash or check.
DHSS Director Muavaefa’atasi John Suisala told police this makes sense because if the redemption is too high, DHSS will start to question it.
MONTHLY REDEMPTION SPREADSHEET INFO
Included in the government’s affidavit is information from a spreadsheet that reflects the monthly redemption amounts for each of the three stores.
The court affidavit notes that DHSS Director Muavaefa’atasi and an appointed inquiry team reviewed redemption figures for JFL Malae Store, Fast By Food Mart (both owned by Kevin) and the store belonging to the unnamed business owner.
According to the spreadsheet, JFL Malae Store had a monthly redemption average of $7,031 between Oct. 2014 and Sept. 2017.
But by October 2017, the store redeemed $80,186. The following month (Nov. 2017) the redemption amount was $63,997 and then last month, the redemption amount was $80,789.
For the first week of Jan. 2018 (before the store was suspended from the Food Stamp program) the redemption amount was $26,640, according to the court affidavit.
The second of Kevin's stores, Fast By Food Mart, had an average redemption of $9,524 from June 2017 to Sept. 2017 yet suddenly it had a redemption of $26,161 for Oct. 2017.
In Nov. 2017, the redemption amount was $56,695 and then in Dec. 2017, the redemption amount skyrocketed to $105,464.
For the first week of Jan. 2018 (before being suspended from the Food Stamp program) the store had a redemption of $20,200.
According to the affidavit, the third store, which Kevin reached out to in October 2017 for assistance in depositing some of his food stamp coupons for redemption — as a way of subduing any attention to him relating to the amount of ‘obtained’ food stamp coupons — had an average redemption of $1,188 from Feb. 2017 to Sept. 2017.
However, in Oct. 2017 the store’s redemption ballooned to $30,722 In Nov. 2017, the redemption was $52,000 and then in Dec. 2017, the redemption more than doubled to $114,318.
For the first week of Jan. 2018 (before being disqualified from the Food Stamp program) the redemption amount was $20,000.
In addition to the food stamps, the affidavit also revealed a transaction between the late DHSS director Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona and Kevin.
(Samoa News notes that defendant Toeava is Taeaoafua's son-in-law and it was during Taeaoafua's term as DHSS director that the alleged food stamp scheme took place. Also, Samoa News identifies Taeaoafua as Solomona in Kevin’s statement, as the defendant does not refer to the late DHSS director, using his matai title.)
According to Kevin's statement to police, he and Solomona were close friends and sometime during Nov. 2017, Solomona contacted him and asked if he wanted to buy his truck because he needed the money to see a doctor in the US and he wanted to leave on Dec. 05, 2017.
Kevin said he agreed and purchased Solomona's truck for $15,000
This wasn't the first time the two engaged in a business transaction. Prior to this, according to Kevin, Solomona allegedly told him he needed his help because ‘Mama’ (Solomona’s wife) wanted to start a rental car business. (See yesterday's Samoa News edition for details.)
When questioned by police on Jan. 16, 2018, defendant Vasa — assigned to the DHSS, ASNAP Issuance Office — said sometime during the first week of Dec. 2017, Toeava asked her to provide him with food stamp coupon papers because he needed the layout to create his business card.
According to the affidavit, Vast asserted that she was reluctant to accommodate Toeava’s request but acquiesced to it two days later, providing him with one unopened box of food stamp coupon paper. In return, Toeava gave her $4,000 the following week.
TAEAOAFUA PASSES AWAY
On Dec. 11, 2017, Taeaoafua passed away unexpectedly and the affidavit says Kevin never got paid for the two vehicles in the car rental fleet ($18,000), nor for the three additional vehicles (totaling $39,000) he purchased after taking out a bank loan at the late DHSS director Taeaoafua's insistence.
In addition, Kevin’s 40% ownership of the car rental business never materialized.
According to Kevin, defendant Toeava told him that when the coupons are redeemed, they would split the money 50-50. He added that his friend, the unnamed business owner, didn't get anything out of it, as he only did it as a favor.
The affidavit notes that from Sept. 2017 to Jan. 2018, "the 50% Kevin collected amounted to $243,721.”
Samoa News will report more on this case later this week.