Defense pleads for leniency and cites extenuating circumstances in fraud case
Seattle, WASHINGTON — The defense team for an American Samoa woman accused of fraud and theft claims that the defendant’s crimes were “borne out poverty, loss of financial control and a pathological desire to please,” according to the defense sentencing statement filed with the federal court in Seattle, Washington.
The defense also claimed that the 40-year old defendant, Iliganoa Theresa Lauofo, of Tacoma, Washington “was physically abused by her father for years” in American Samoa” and the “abuse stopped when Ms. Lauofo was in high school, but the damage had been done.”
Lauofo is scheduled for sentencing today at the Seattle federal court, where federal prosecutors recommended 36 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered her to pay the agreed restitution of $267,639.69, which she stole between April 2011 and December 2018.
According to the defense, the “just sentence” in this case is a five-year period of restrictive probation, including two years of home confinement and a community service requirement. This would permit Lauofo to remain physically present for her seven children, while she creates a foundation and financial plan with the assistance of social workers, a probation officer and her family.
“The just sentence in this case would be one that punishes Ms. Lauofo through restricting her freedom and holds her accountable, but does not strip her seven children of their mother,” wrote Lauofo’s attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Sara Brin in the defense’s sentencing statement.
However, because of the statutory limitations placed on the Court by the government’s charging decision, Brin said Lauofo asked the Court to impose a 24-month imprisonment sentence.
HISTORY AND CHARACTERISTICS
The defense maintain Lauofo’s “friendly, warm and easygoing personality serves to mask deep wounds and feelings of rejection and desperation. She is a ‘people pleaser’ and always aims to satisfy and appease those around her. She avoids conflict and is resistant to casting any aspersions or assigning negative intent to anyone in her life. She rarely gives herself the same generosity of spirit,” the defense points out.
The 17-page sentencing statement provides a summary of Lauofo’s childhood in American Samoa, what she thought of her relationship with her siblings along with claims of being physically abused by her father. (Federal prosecutors also acknowledged the defendant being abused by her father.)
As noted in the pre-sentence report, Lauofo minimizes the trauma of her early childhood unless pressed, according to the defense, noting that it was only after significant probing by counsel and the defense team that Lauofo discussed the discord and conflict that pervaded her home.
“And, even when discussing the pain and harm that was done to her, she validates her abusers by making sure she repeatedly mentions their positive qualities,” the defense said, adding that Lauofo will also minimize trauma and negative experiences in her life by excusing them as part of the “Samoan culture.”
The defense also provided for the court summary information during the Lauofo’s “young adulthood and first marriage” to a man, who is from American Samoa that she met him when she moved to Washington state. It describes what she went through as well as the situation with her marriage.
The court was also informed in detail of the defendant’s life with a new husband — who was born in Hawaii — after divorcing the first husband and what she went through. Also detailed are he defendant’s children and that she and her family ended up living with the husband’s family.
NATURE & CIRCUMSTANCE OF OFFENSE
“It is important to impress upon this Court that despite the lengthy and ongoing nature of Ms. Lauofo’s crimes, each and every aspect was borne out of poverty, loss of financial control and a pathological desire to please,” the defense sentencing statement points out.
“There was no point in the last decade at which Ms. Lauofo was able to get her head above water and seek help. There was no point at which she wasn’t saddled with debt. There was no point at which she wasn’t terrified of being arrested, becoming homeless or of losing her children because she could not support them financially,” it says.
Unlike fraud cases in which the money gained is used for lavish vacations, cars, shopping or gambling, the defense argued that Lauofo’s “fraudulent gains were used to sustain her large family’s basic needs. There were no extravagances. There was survival and sustenance.”
“Ms. Lauofo was not fraudulently applying for benefits or misrepresenting her family makeup to buy luxury cars or throw parties,” the defense points out. “She was desperate for money to keep food on the table, clothes on her children’s backs, and to keep her family satisfied that she and her husband were contributing enough financially.”
Since being charged in this case, the defense points out that Lauofo and her family’s financial circumstances have not improved. While she was employed for some time as a delivery person stocking vending machines, she lost this job after she was late for work.
According to the defense, Lauofo has been further ostracized by her family and by her community in person and on social media.
“She has expressed that she would be too embarrassed to return to American Samoa after seeing what people have said about her on the internet. Her own remorse and shame for the crimes she committed has weighed on her heavily,” they said.
The defense noted that Lauofo wishes she could take back every single mistake she made and that she “understands that her conduct was aggravated and seems brazen.” Additionally, she always knew she would get caught, but she couldn’t imagine what it would be like when she did or how she could possibly survive without the extra money.
“Ms. Lauofo does not deny that she took an enormous amount of money that wasn’t hers. She knows that her conduct was aggravated and she is ashamed by the way that she committed her crimes,” the defense said. “She hurt people — including family members — and she betrayed people.”
“She is accepting full responsibility for her crimes and for the hurt she has caused,” the defense said.