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Culinary Academy equipment demanded as NHHC unravels

Human Resources Director Le’i Sonny Thompson is demanding that Chef Sualua Tupolo turn in close to $50,000 worth of equipment that was used at the American Samoa Culinary Academy following a lease agreement signed between Sualua and former governor Togiola Tulafono.


Responding to Samoa News questions, the HR Director noted the government moved to cancel the lease for non-compliance with the lease agreement.


The equipment (ovens, pots, pans, kitchenware) was bought by the government with National Employment Grant (NEG) funding with the goal to have Sualua conduct cooking courses that would in return allow the students to gain employment as chefs and cooks, yet Sualua has failed to fulfill this obligation, according to Le’i.


The move to demand the return of government property follows a letter from Attorney General Afoa L Su’esu’e to the HR Director.


Afoa noted in his letter that he had asked Sualua to return all of the equipment and urged Le’i to re-survey and conduct an inventory of the NEG-purchased equipment, once it’s delivered to the Office of Property Management by Sualua.


Samoa News has obtained a copy of this “confidential” letter. The lease went into effect on Dec. 28, 2012 and was set to expire on Dec. 28, 2017.


According to the lease agreement between the government and Chef Sualua (which was also obtained by Samoa News) the monthly rent for the equipment is to be paid in advance in installments of Five Dollars ($5.00)each month beginning Jan. 1, 2013 on the first day of each succeeding month to the Treasury.


“Any installment payment not made by the 10th of the month shall be considered overdue in addition to lessor’s other remedies [and] lessor (ASG) may levy a late payment charge equal to 1% per month on any overdue amount. Rent for any partial month shall be prorated.”


The lease indicated the value of the ASG-NEG equipment is $48,587.58.




The lease states that it is a material term of the agreement and Lessee (Sualua) acknowledges that “the equipment shall half be used in support of programs operated by and incidental to the operations of the American Samoa Culinary Academy.”


“Also, the equipment shall be used to train students and other persons in American Samoa in the culinary arts.”


It goes on to say, “If lessor (ASG) discovers at any time during the term of the lease that the equipment is not being used for the purposes stated, this agreement shall become terminable at the option of the lessor (ASG), which may take possession of the equipment thirty days after providing written notice of termination to the lessee (Sualua).


 The lease noted that Sualua is responsible to repair and replace the equipment if lost or damaged. 




The lease states that if the lease is terminated, Sualua must return the equipment to the government in good condition and working order, ordinary wear and tear resulting from proper good use thereof alone excepted, by delivering the equipment to a place ASG specifies, and he will do so at his own expense.




The lease states that the equipment shall at all times during the term of the lease remain the government’s property.


Samoa News inquired as to what the government intends on doing with the equipment once it’s returned. HR Director noted that after a full inspection and accountability of all the equipment it will be turned over to the Department of Education to be used in the schools.


In the meantime, Samoa News has received emails from employees of the American Samoa Culinary Academy (ASCA) indicating that Chef Sualua is no longer a manager of the ASCA.


Chef Sualua contacted Samoa News via phone, from the US mainland, and said he’s concerned that if he replies to queries sent by Samoa News, it would somehow not make it to the intended email.


He noted that ASCA former employees are right, the NHHC/CIC “took over the restaurant when they needed to show that they had to find jobs to fulfill the contract with the NEG (National Emergency Grant).”


He told Samoa News that he was on the NHHC payroll along with ASCA employees. The Chef noted that the laptop that was provided to him by the NHHC has been tampered with, where emails and documents stored on that laptop were erased.


Samoa News asked Chef Sualua to give an exact date as to when NHHC took over, and if he signed any paperwork indicating that he handed over his company to NHHC.


“I can’t give an exact time/date because I spent my time in the kitchen and there were people who were doing the administrative work in that office but it was like right around the time when after my program was finished, that’s when they (NHHC) were approaching me to have them manage the place and take over the place.


He said no document was signed and “it was like this is what how it’s going to go… you are all part of the incorporation, you will be the CEO, it was basically that they just took over everything, they had the money to help the school, they were paying for things and getting stuff done, they were helping us,” he said.


Sualua, who left the territory to be with his daughter, who was undergoing medical treatment, said initially NHHC had paid for his daughter’s medical insurance and he was surprised when the insurance was cut off.


He told Samoa News before NHHC came on board ASCA company was always paying his employees and when NHHC took over this happened — where the employees were not getting paid.


Samoa News asked Chef Sualua if he was aware that both his restaurants were closed down. He responded that it was upsetting when he found out about this.


“I was so pissed off, I was not aware of that, I told them you could have at least called me and told me… on top of that, moving the equipment out of there without letting me know and the NEG know that they were going to move the equipment,” he said. The Chef informed Samoa News that he’s heading back to the territory to clear his name and assist ASCA employees any way he can.


A former employee under the Native Hawaiian Holding Company/ ASCA, Karalina Prendergast, who has since resigned, said in an email to Samoa News that NHHC has taken control of a lot of businesses (including Sualua's American Samoa Culinary Academy) — supposedly to help build jobs and business revenue. “As employees, we were told one thing and then something completely different happened,” she wrote.


“January 9, 2013, many employees were let go with no final payment, letter or reasoning, two more cuts were made between January and March and the same issue was mentioned. When asked about pay, employees are put off and told check in later, there's no wire or funding at this time, there are also multiple vendors who have yet to be paid for services,” she said.


“NHHC has hired many people and kept them through a certain amount of months (3-6) so that they can be "exited" however those positions are not permanent. The promise of secure CAREERS is to be believed as lies because now a year later, a majority of employees are back to square one in the job search.


"I hope you guys get the truth out of these companies because it’s the people of American Samoa who are yet again on the job search and also have yet to be paid. Many are backed up 3 pay periods and on the day of pay, there's always something new in regards to why there aren't pay checks or only getting half... Please look further into these companies, because the mother company is CIC who is supposedly bringing down the credit union and opening up more job opportunities, she noted.


“Taxpayers should know where the funding was spent on the grant, and DHR is right to hold the money until reports are given. As far as Agriculture there are many employees too who have been put on 'break' until things are sorted, we just want the truth please and to be paid for the hours worked."


Samoa News was able to obtain an email correspondence between Paula Stevenson-McDonald, the NHHC local manager and an employee of the NHHC, dated Mar. 6, 2013 that Sualua’s Restaurant in Fagatogo was closed by the employees due to no supplies.


The email in full text reads:


“Sorry to call you [Paula McDonald] when you're busy, just found out this morning that the Chefs made their decision yesterday to close the restaurant today because they have nothing (no supplies) to make anything. No one called me yesterday or this morning. Now they are saying there is a catering today and need at least $300 for shopping and $500 for Origin Energy to get more gas."


The equipment leased to Sualua is now in storage in a vacant room adjacent to DDW Restaurant, owned by Mrs. McDonald’s sister, Leilua Stevenson. Two reliable sources confirmed to Samoa News the equipment was being stored at DDW.


Several questions sent to Paula and her husband Michael McDonald have not been answered as of press time.