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Two Western Union employees charged with stealing big bucks

[SN  file photo]
Western Union has reimbursed all customers affected

Police have arrested and charged two former Western Union employees for crimes they allegedly committed a year and a half ago involving thousands of dollars stolen from WU customers. Meanwhile, Western Union has reimbursed all the customers who were affected.

Lagavale Angelina Sasa and Judy Leilua Tautalaga have each been charged with two counts of embezzlement and two counts of stealing. Embezzlement and stealing are both class C felonies, punishable by a term not to exceed 7 years imprisonment, 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.

The women made their initial appearances in District Court this week, and they are set to appear for a preliminary examination next Tuesday.

District Court Judge Fiti Sunia set bail for Sasa at $15,000 and $35,000 for Tautalaga.

If they are able to post bond, they are to abide by certain conditions that include no contact with the government witnesses, including the victims in this case, and they are not permitted to leave the territory while their cases are pending.

According to government’s affidavit, the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) 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, Tautalaga allegedly confessed to one of the company's senior employees that she stole the money and used it for her sister's funeral.

The representative also told police that while reviewing the complaint, it was revealed that another employee by the name of Lana (co-defendant Lagavale Sasa) was also stealing money from the company.

On Friday, July 5th 2016, police interviewed Sasa, who provided both a verbal and a written statement regarding the matter.

According to Sasa, 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 let her know of the complaints made by customers about monies their families had yet to receive.

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

According to court documents, Sasa said 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.

According to Sasa's statement, co-defendant Tautalaga was relieved when she did as she asked.

The company eventually had to reimburse the customers whose money transfers were taken by Sasa, according to court records.

It was revealed during the police investigation that Tautalaga processed three transactions — each for $7,000 — on May 25th, 31st and June 2, 2016, for a total of $21,000.

According to the affidavit, a senior official of Western Union discovered the transaction handled by Sasa on July 14, 2016 for an Asian customer.

The company official told police that Sasa allegedly confessed to taking the money — keeping $3,000 for herself and giving Tautalaga $4,000

Investigators were able to interview one of the victims who made a $7,000 transaction.

According to the victim, it was on May 25, 2016 that he met Sasa at the Western Union office in Nuuuli to process a transaction for $7,000

Based on court documents, the victim told police that Sasa provided him with a receipt and told him the funds would be released one month later.

The victim said he returned a month later and was informed that the money was still not in the system, and the manager assisted him with the problem.

A company official told police that she resolved the problem and the company paid for the transaction.

Investigators were able to speak to yet another victim in this case — also an Asian customer — on July 22, 2016 at the DPS main station in Fagatogo.

According to the second victim, he went to Western Union on June 9 & 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 on June 20, 2016.

On that day, the victim returned to Western Union where he was told by Sasa that his money was still not ready, but to check back on June 30.

On June 23, the same victim went to Western Union to make another transaction but did not see Sasa there. He said he then spoke with a supervisor, who informed him that his money was taken out the same day of the transaction.

Court documents note that a follow-up interview with a senior official of Western Union revealed that the second victim’s money was paid back to him by the company on June 27.

The WU official added that Sasa allegedly confessed to her about taking the money because she was trying to help Tautalaga.

She told police she spoke with both Sasa and Tautalaga about the transaction, and both women confessed to her about allegedly taking $7,000 from one transaction.

The same official further told police that Sasa also allegedly confessed to taking a total of $10,000 through a fraudulent transaction, while Tautalaga allegedly confessed to taking $14,000.

According to court filings, when questioned by police, Tautalaga allegedly said she used the $14,000 on various things that she wanted, but did not provide details on the items.

She also is alleged to have told police that she was going to pay the money back, adding that when she was terminated from her job at Western Union, she sought Sasa's help in getting $7,000 and Sasa agreed to it.

Upon further questioning, Tautalaga, according to court records, admitted to police that she took $14,000 from two transactions.

When asked about the other questionable transactions, Tautalaga said others are able to use her Operator Identification and while it was used, she denies any knowledge of the other transactions.

She allegedly told police she doesn't know how much money was actually taken, because she didn't keep track, and all she wanted to do was tell the truth.

Court records note Tautalaga as saying there was an incident where she had given a Control Number to Sasa to retrieve money from a transaction to cover for another transaction.