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Former ASPA employee gets 7 straight years, no probation

[SN file photo]

Makerita Leituane, who pled guilty to embezzlement for mis-appropriating over $18K while working for ASPA’s Aunu’u office, was sentenced last Friday to 7 straight years in prison — meaning no conditions for probation, no work release. But, she is not ordered to pay restitution of any amount for her crime.

Leituane has been in custody since her arrest in February, unable to post the $10,000 bond.

She was initially charged with embezzlement and stealing; however, under a plea agreement with the government, which was accepted by the court in June, the defendant pled guilty to the embezzlement charge, and the stealing charge was dismissed.

Chief Justice Michael Kruse did not mince words to the Public Defender last Friday, during Leituane’s sentencing. “I don’t know why young mothers like this defendant go and steal money from their former employers, then come back crying to the court for their children and husbands.”

Kruse recalled a case in Manu’a years ago, involving a young mother who worked for ANZ Bank, and was convicted of stealing more than $90,000 from the bank’s Ofu branch. According to Kruse, as a result, ANZ closed down its Ofu branch and now, there is no bank service in Manu’a.

He said that what happened to ANZ Bank in Manu’a, is the same thing that’s going to happen to the ASPA office in Aunu’u, after what Leituane did, and ASPA is now looking at how to collect payments from their customers in Aunu’u.

Based on court documents, ASPA presented to the government the outcome of its internal probe of the theft; and this resulted in a police investigation against the defendant, who had overseen the accounting of money collected from Aunu’u customers for debit meters.

It also says that for a long time, the ASPA main office on Tutuila didn’t receive accounting reports of money collected at the Aunu’u office, and it’s the reason Leituane was questioned.

The defendant claimed that the Aunu’u office had been broken into and vandalized, with all of the money — a total of $18,050 — stolen.

Neither the cash nor the proceeds from the scratch utility debit meter cards were recovered from the Aunu’u ofice. Court documents state that as the investigation continued, the defendant changed her original story and said she used some of the money for herself and was prepared to repay it.

Before addressing the court, Leituane’s husband took the stand, apologizing to the court for his wife’s wrongdoing, and begged the court for leniency and a second chance for her to come back home to care for their children, especially their elderly mother.

“My children and I really need my wife to come back home, because we’ve noticed that without a mother, there is no hope and happiness in the family,” said Leituane’s husband. He burst into tears as he continued his testimony, saying everyone makes mistakes, but God looks inside the heart of a person who truly repents and walks away from their sin.

“I know my wife is truly remorseful for what she did, and I beg you please, allow her to come home, not only to strengthen her life, but also to find another job to pay her fine, and continue on with her contributions to our family, village, and church,” he concluded.

Leituane also apologized to the court for her actions and echoed the same sentiments as her husband. She also apologized to her former employer, ASP A, especially her former boss, Utu Able Malae for her actions, and asked them to forgive her. “I am truly remorseful for what I did. I have learned a good lesson during the 6 months I have been in prison, and I swear that this will be my first and last time in court,” said the defendant. Leituane’ s attorney, Fiaui asked the court for a probated sentence, to allow his client to return home to find ajob to pay her fine, and to prove to the court that she can be a good member of the community. Fiaui stated that after spending 6 months behind bars, Leituane has learned her lesson, and she realizes that prison is not a good place for a young mother like herself, and she needs to move on with her life.

He asked that his client only pay $3,369 — if the court orders her to pay restitution — as that’ s the only amount Leituane admitted to the Probation Office and in court during her plea agreement that she misappropriated, not the full amount of $18,050 the government alluded to.

Fiaui said ASPA had told the government that his client stole the full amount of $18,050. He said there were reports about ASPA’s main office in Tafuna being burglarized several times, and maybe part of this money was stolen during that time.

Although Assistant Attorney General Robert Morris echoed Fiaui’s request for a probated sentence, he was opposed to the amount of restitution. As he was trying to convince the court that the defendant must pay the full amount that was unaccounted for from the Aunu’u office, Kruse cut him off — saying he must remember that he agreed to a plea agreement with the defendant, and whatever amount both parties had agreed to, that’ s the amount the court has to consider for restitution. Morris told the court that he understood, and then he continued on with his final submission. As he was trying to read from a document in front of him, saying that the defendant misappropriated over $18,000 from ASP A, Kruse cut him off again, and asked him with his eyes wide open, “Are you arguing with me?” Morris replied no. “So don’ t,” Kruse said. “It’s a Friday and I need to go for lunch.”