Former employee of local agent for Western Union must pay full restitution or spend 20 months at TCF
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — One of the three former employees of Pacific Holdings American Samoa convicted of stealing money from the company, has been given 6 months to pay back the full amount she stole; if not, she will serve 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF).
Of note, Pacific Holdings American Samoa (PHAS), owned by Fexco Pacific, is a local agent of Western Union. In court documents, PHAS is referred to as Western Union.
Lagavale Sasa, a.k.a. Lana, appeared before Associate Justice Fiti Sunia last Friday for sentencing. Prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Doug Lowe, while private attorney Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei represented the defendant, who was out on a $15,000 surety bond.
Sasa was initially charged with two counts of embezzlement and two counts of stealing, both class C felonies that carry a maximum sentence of 7 years, a fine of $5,000 or, pursuant to A.S.C.A 46.2101, a fine equal to twice the amount of gain from the commission of said crime, up to a maximum of $20,000, or both such fine and imprisonment for each count.
Under a plea agreement with the government, accepted by the court, Sasa pled guilty to the amended count of conspiracy to commit stealing. With her guilty plea, Sasa admits that on July 14, 2016 she and a co-defendant stole money from PHAS, where they worked, and she made off with $10,000.
When given the chance to speak, Sasa apologized and with tears, begged for a second chance so she can find a job to pay back the money she stole. She said no one is to be blamed for her actions, but her.
She apologized to her former employer for taking advantage of the company’s trust, saying she made a foolish mistake,which has brought shame and humiliation on her family and herself.
Mr. Uiagalelei asked the court for a probated sentence, saying his client is truly remorseful and she takes full responsibility for what she did. He said if the court imposes a period of detention, he asked if Sasa could turn herself in at the TCF later in the afternoon, because she has to escort her elderly mother back home before she prepares the stuff she needs to take to the TCF.
Prosecutor Lowe echoed Uiagalelei’s submission for probation, and argued for restitution. He asked the court for leniency for Sasa, saying the other two co-defendants have already been sentenced. Co-defendant Judy Tautalaga, according to Lowe, is the one who initiated the whole scheme. Lowe said Sasa deserves a second chance.
A recap of the facts of the case was made before sentencing was handed down.
According to Associate Justice Fiti Sunia, this is not the first time the court has dealt with cases like this, involving employees who steal from their employers. Moreover, most of these employees are women, who are entrusted by their employers; however, they turn around and take the funds for their own personal use. He said the actions by these defendants affected the company, and they must pay back what they owe.
It was a company official who told police that while looking into a complaint filed by a customer involving USD $7,000, co-defendant Judy Leilua Tautalaga confessed to one of the company's senior employees that she stole the money and used it for her sister's funeral.
A review of the complaint revealed that Sasa was also stealing money from the company. Sasa told police she took money from two transactions, made by two separate customers, to cover up for the money Tautalaga allegedly took 30 days earlier.
Sasa said Tautalaga asked her to take money from other transactions to cover up for the money she took. Sasa said she did as she was asked, by taking money from 2 separate transactions that were made 3 days apart (June 10 and 14, 2016) totaling $14,000.
One of the victims told police he met with Sasa at the [PHAS-] Western Union office in Nuuuli on May 25, 2016 to process a $7,000 transaction. He said Sasa gave him a receipt and told him the funds would be released one month later. However, when the victim returned the next month, he was told the money was still not in the system.
A manager assisted the victim and a company official told police the problem was resolved, and the company paid for the transaction. Investigators spoke to another victim on July 22, 2016. According to him, he went to [PHAS-] Western Union on June 9 and 10, 2016 to make two separate transactions, each for $7,000, to be sent to a friend in China.
He said one transaction went through but the other was put on hold by Sasa, who told him the money would be available June 20th. On that day, the victim returned to the [PHAS-] Western Union office and was told by Sasa that his money was still not ready, but to check back on June 30th.
On June 23rd, the same victim went to the [PHAS-] Western Union office to make another transaction, but did not see Sasa there. He said he spoke to a supervisor who told him his money was taken out the same day of the transaction. Court documents note that a follow-up interview with a senior [PHAS-] Western Union official revealed that the second victim’s money was paid back to him by the company on June 27th.
STATEMENT FROM THE COMPANY
Samoa News received a statement from Jane Quinn, the Group Operations, Risk & Compliance Manager of Fexco Pacific, clarifying the employment status of the co-defendants, when we first reported on the case.
“The staff were [sic] not employed by Western Union. They were employed by Pacific Holdings American Samoa Inc. (PHAS). The stores are not owned by Western Union, they are owned by PHAS and that company is owned by Fexco Pacific. It was not the Western Union Company Group Risk & Compliance Manager who travelled from NZ and reported it. It was me, and I do not work for Western Union, I work for Fexco Pacific.
“Once we were made aware of the problem, the customers were paid back their money by PHAS. We sincerely apologize again to those customers that were impacted by the actions of these rouge ex-staff members and have since put additional controls in place to mitigate this risk.”
Sasa was sentenced to 5 years probation under the condition that she serve 20 months in jail. The court will suspend the execution of the detention period for 6 months, to allow Sasa to find a job and come up with a plan on how to pay restitution.
Sasa has 6 months to pay full restitution. She is also ordered to pay a $3,000 fine.
The court told Sasa that this is her chance to prove that she’s truly remorseful for what she did. “It’s up to you now,” Sunia said.