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Former employee of Western Union's local agent pleads guilty to stealing

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — One of the two women accused of stealing money from Western Union's local agent, Pacific Holdings American Samoa, has entered into a plea agreement with the government.

Lagavale Sasa, a.k.a. Lana, appeared before Associate Justice Fiti Sunia last Friday morning for a Change of Plea hearing. Prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Doug Lowe, while private attorney Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei represented the defendant, who has been released on a $15,000 surety bond.

Sasa was initially charged with two counts of embezzlement and two counts of stealing, all 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 Western Union, where they were employed. Sasa said she made off with $10,000.

According to the government, the DPS Criminal Investigation Division was contacted on Monday, July 11, 2016 by the Western Union Company Group Risk and Compliance Manager, who travelled from New Zealand.

The company representative, at that time, told police that while looking into a complaint filed by a customer involving US $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. She said that after Tautalaga was suspended from work, she called Tautalaga to inform her of complaints made by customers about money transfers their families had yet to receive.

Sasa told police that Tautalaga asked her to take money from other transactions to cover up for the money she took.

According to Sasa, she did as Tautalaga asked, by taking money from 2 separate transactions that were made 3 days apart (June 10 and 14, 2016) totaling $14,000.

Investigators interviewed one of the victims — an Asian — who said he met with Sasa at the Western Union office in Nuuuli on May 25, 2016 to process a $7,000 transaction.

The victim told police that 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 yet another victim — also an Asian — on July 22, 2016. According to the second victim, he went to 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.

The victim told police one transaction went through but the other was put on hold by Sasa, who told him the money would be available June 20, 2016. On that day, the victim returned to Western Union 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 Western Union 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 Western Union official revealed that the second victim’s money was paid back to him by the company on June 27th.

According to the Western Union official, Sasa confessed to taking the money because she was trying to help Tautalaga, and both women admitted to taking $7,000 from one transaction.

Sasa will be sentenced Sept. 12th at 9:00a.m.

(Co-defendant Tautalaga was sentenced last year to serve 28 months at the TCF as a condition of a 7-year probation term, after being found guilty of stealing).

Originally in this story about the woman who pled guilty to stealing from Western Union while she was employed there, Samoa News received a phone call yesterday, requesting to correct the name to Pacific Holdings American Samoa, a local agent for Western Union. The woman who pled guilty, Lagavale Sasa, is not an employee of Western Union but instead, an employee of Pacific Holdings American Samoa, the local agent for Western Union.