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Former ASG employee charged with 16 criminal counts

reporters@samoanews.com

Former government employee, Fiapapalagi Eteuati Letuli has been charged with 16 criminal counts on allegations that she had forged government checks from the American Samoa Economic Stimulus Development Recovery office (ASESDRO).

The defendant is facing eight counts of felony stealing and eight counts of forgery (making) which are all class C felonies punishable up to seven years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, a fine equal to the amount gained from said crime up to $20,000 or both fine and jail time.

According to the government’s case the investigation was launched at the request of ASESDRO Director Pat Galea’i earlier this year. Court filings state that on February 15, 2012 the Attorney General’s office was assigned to investigate allegations that the defendant forged and cashed ASG payroll checks made out to another ASESDRO employee, Gale Clarke, who was on leave.

It’s alleged that Galea’i told the investigator that Clarke has been on leave without pay from January 2011 to July 2011 for medical issues, however ASG payroll checks for the same period were still being generated in her name and were being cashed.

Court filings state that the Director confronted the defendant, given that she’s the one responsible for how the payroll checks for Clarke were issued.

It’s alleged the defendant admitted that she had submitted time sheets and sick leave slips in the name of Clarke, and signing her name, despite knowing that Clarke was on medical leave.

“Once the ASG payroll checks in Clarke’s name were issued, defendant then took the checks to Tafuna Mini Mart and KDJ Inc Store and cashed these checks. The investigator also spoke to the defendant, who admitted she prepared the paperwork in order to get the ASG payroll in the name of Clarke.

“Defendant admitted she stole the money in order to pay loans, to meet church obligations, to meet family obligations and for many other reasons” say court filings.

The investigator also spoke to Clarke who said she was on leave between January 2011 and July 2011 and did not return to American Samoa until late August 2011.

Clarke said she was on medical leave without pay and she did not consent for the defendant to process any paperwork for her to receive payroll checks, nor did she give the defendant permission to sign her name to cash the checks.

The government claims there are a total of eight checks issued, beginning January 14, 2011 through August 5, 2011 which totaled $7,860.65.

The defendant was served yesterday morning and made her initial appearance before District Court Judge John Ward. She’s held on bail of $15,000 and her attorney, Assistant Public Defender Karen Shelley asked the court to reduce bail for the defendant to $10,000.

District Court Judge John Ward denied the motion, noting that this is a serious matter and also that the defendant has a previous conviction with the court.

The defendant waived her rights to a preliminary examination in the District Court and will be arraigned in High Court today. Prosecuting this matter is Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Hyde.



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