Update: Samoan woman in Wash State embroiled in fraud scheme
Seattle WASHINGTON — A Samoan woman who is alleged to have used identities of children actually living in American Samoa and Samoa to obtain federal benefits, was charged last week at the federal court in Seattle, Washington under a 17-count indictment.
Thirty-nine year old Iliganoa Theresa Lauofo, who resides in Tacoma, Washington, is also alleged to have used identities of relatives living in California to claim other federal benefits. Furthermore, she used identifications of a deceased ex-husband and cousins living in California to open bank and credit accounts to deposit funds from the alleged fraud scheme.
Lauofo is facing six counts of wire fraud; 4 counts of theft of public funds; 3 counts of Social Security number misuse; 3 counts of aggravated identity theft, and one-count of embezzlement of mail by a postal employee, according to the indictment.
Court records show that Lauofo will make her initial court appearance on Dec. 5th. Court records — as of last Friday — do not show whether Lauofo is in custody or not.
The indictment alleges that Lauofo misrepresented her household composition, income, and identity to collect federally funded assistance benefits to which she was not entitled. She also used stolen identifies to establish fraudulent credit and bank accounts, funded in part by checks she stole while serving as a US Postal Service employee.
Through this fraud, she collected more than $230,000 in federal benefits and other funds to which she was not entitled, prosecutors allege.
According to the 11-page indictment, between April 2011 and December 2018, Lauofo repeatedly submitted to the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) benefits applications and eligibility reviews that omitted and concealed her husband (identified only as P.T.) and his income and assets from her household.
When DSHS became aware that Lauofo is married to P.T, the defendant falsely claimed that her husband lived in a separate residence outside of her household. To support this false claim, Lauofo submitted an altered lease claiming that a mother-in-law housing unit was part of the residence. She also instructed P.T. to lie to DSHS, if asked about it.
Also part of the fraud scheme, it is alleged Lauofo “stole and/ or misused the identity information of children who lived in American Samoa, Western Samoa or elsewhere outside of Washington state, and falsely listed them in her household in order to obtain additional DSHS food and children benefits to which she was not entitled,” the indictment further alleges.
And these benefits were paid to Lauofo by direct deposit via interstate wire, it says.
When DSHS asked the defendant about the children in October 2017, Lauofo “falsely claimed that they lived with her from 2012 through August 2017” in Washington before returning to American Samoa.
“In fact none of these children claimed in her household — beyond her own biological children — ever lived with Lauofo in Washington state,” according to the indictment, which didn’t explain if the defendant is a relative of the American Samoa children or how it was able to obtain the identities of the children.
The incitement further alleges that Lauofo submitted to DSHS forged and falsified documents, including letters purportedly from landlords and doctors to verify her false claimed household composition to include the children who didn’t live with her.
Also alleged is that the defendant used stolen identities to obtain assistance benefits. For example, beginning in August 2015, the defendant applied for and collected food, cash, and childcare benefits in the identity of her cousin — identified as K.U — who lived in California.
Lauofo then submitted to DSHS forged and fraudulent school records, doctors letters and other documents claiming, as K.U, that various children were part of her — K.U’s purported household.
“But in fact, the children claimed lived in American Samoa and Western Samoa,” the indictment states.
Another example of the defendant’s fraud scheme cited in the indictment is that she used the identities of other cousins, who lived in California and an acquaintance, who resides in American Samoa to submit DSHS applications for benefits listing many of the same minor children — who are living in American Samoa and elsewhere — as members of her purported household.
Lauofo collected food and cash benefits issued to theses identities. The benefits were paid via electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards issued in the names of these people; and the EBT cards were in the possession of Lauofo, who used the cards to conduct point of sale transactions and make ATM withdrawals.
With the stolen identifies, the indictment alleges that Lauofo opened fraudulent bank and credit accounts causing over $10,000 in loss to financial institutions and other businesses. For example, Lauofo established credit and bank accounts in the identities of two cousins living in California and her deceased ex-husband.
Finally, in March 2018, when Lauofo was employed by the U.S. Postal Service as a letter carrier, she stole and deposited two checks from the mail she was assigned to deliver. She deposited the checks into an account in the name of one of the identities she had stolen in the benefits fraud scheme.
According to the U.S Justice Department, wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison; theft of public funds is punishable by up to ten years in prison; Social Security number misuse and embezzlement by a postal employee are each punishable by up to five years in prison; and aggravated identity theft is punishable by a mandatory consecutive two-year prison term to follow any punishment imposed on the other counts of conviction.
USDOJ points out that the charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. And that a person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
If she is found guilty of wire fraud and theft of public funds, the federal government has filed documents to forfeit all proceeds and property that were obtained by the defendant through this scheme.