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Former McConnell Dowell manager charged with stealing $400,000

Fonotaga J. Faanu  [photo: AF]
She allegedly used the money to renovate her home and gave to family & friends

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The woman from Masefau who is accused of stealing $400,000 from McConnell Dowell told a special investigator from New Zealand that she used some of the money to renovate her house, and some was given to family members and friends.

This was revealed Wednesday afternoon during Fonotaga Jasmine Faanu’s preliminary examination (PX) in the District Court.

The government accused Faanu of 66 criminal counts — 22 of embezzlement, 22 of stealing, and 22 of forgery — all class C felonies.            

However, after the PX hearing, District Court Judge Sunia dismissed all 22 counts of embezzlement finding no probable cause and insufficient evidence to bind them over.

The remaining 44 counts still stand and Faanu will be arraigned in High Court on those charges.

Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General, Robert Morris, while Richard de Saulles of RDA Law Firm is representing Faanu, who is still in custody unable to post a $200,000 surety bond.

The alleged crime was uncovered after ANZ Bank contacted a company representative to verify a check Faanu was trying to cash.

During Wednesday’s nearly 3-hour-long PX hearing, McConnell Dowell Finance Manager, Murray Holmes and Daniel Torreson, a private investigator from New Zealand were the two witnesses called by the government to testify.

It was revealed during PX hearing that Faanu altered 22 checks from her former employer and cashed the checks for personal use. The 22 checks referred to in the alleged scheme were written out to Pacific Energy (PE) and were signed by the company.

However, Faanu allegedly changed the payee portion of the check from Pacific Energy to either her name or "cash" and went to ANZ where she allegedly cashed them.

It was revealed in court that the alleged check scheme started in 2013 and continued until February this year. According to the government, the amount of each check the defendant allegedly cashed ranged from $4,400 up to $9,986.56.

According to Holmes' testimony, Faanu was the company’s office manager during the time of the alleged incident. She started working there in 2010.

It was on Feb. 20, 2018, when a representative from ANZ Bank informed him that someone was trying to cash a check from the company in the amount of $9,980.56 earlier that day.

The next morning, Holmes confronted Faanu and asked her if anyone from their office tried to cash a company check at ANZ Bank the previous day. Faanu said no.

Holmes thought it was over; but that same morning, the same ANZ rep called him again, telling him a check from McConnell Dowell was cashed the previous day.

“When I asked Faanu again if she knew anything about this check, that was when she confessed to me by saying, 'it was me',” Holmes testified.

Holmes then called his supervisor in New Zealand and explained what happened. After negotiating with Faanu, she agreed to pay back the money.

Holmes said the company thought this was the only check Fa’anu allegedly cashed; but after receiving a letter from PE saying McConnell Dowell owed them more than $10,000, that’s when he became suspicious that something happened to the checks he signed and issued to PE to pay for the fuel they provided.

From his own investigation, Holmes discovered that some of the checks the company issued to pay for the deliveries were not paid out to PE. He then requested ANZ to send copies of all the checks that were supposed to be paid out to PE, and the total number of checks was 22.

Copies of all 22 checks were presented to the court by the government, and were later admitted into evidence.

Holmes told the court that after he received copies of the checks from the bank, he questioned Faanu as to why she did this, and her response was, “She was under pressure and she used the cash from the checks to pay her bills.” Holmes told the court that Faanu promised to pay the money back; however, she never did.

Holmes told the court the company was horrified, disappointed, and shocked with what Faanu did — she had breached their trust.

Cross-examination of the witness centered on whether the company instructed Faanu, and other employees, to cash company checks at the bank. The witness said yes, Faanu and other employees were instructed to cash some of the company checks at the bank.

When the defense attorney asked Holmes if he ever interviewed a fellow employee by the name of Teka about cashing a check at ANZ, the witness said yes. He said Teka told him the only check she cashed at the bank was a check Faanu instructed her to cash.

After cashing that check, Teka gave the whole amount to Faanu who split the amount in half, between the two of them. According to the witness, Teka is now suspended. He said another employee by the name of Evon, who also admitted to cashing a check, was “let go” by the company.

When the defense asked Holmes whether the company gave Faanu and the other two employees a chance to sign a promissory note to pay back the money, the witness said no.

He said the investigation is still ongoing with regards to other employees who are allegedly involved in a separate matter. Holmes told the defense that according to the summary of facts presented to him by the private investigator, a total of $400,000 was involved in the check scheme Faanu is being charged with.


Daniel Torreson has been operating his own private investigating company in NZ for 30 years, and McConnell Dowell is one of his clients.

He told the court that after receiving information about the case in February, he traveled to American Samoa last month to start his investigation. He said he first spent time at the company’s main office in Tafuna where he got the chance to speak to some of the employees before he spoke to Faanu.

During their conversation, Torreson told the court Faanu admitted to him that she altered all of the checks, cashed them at the bank, and used the money to renovate her home in Masefau. She also gave some of the money to her family and friends.

During cross examination, deSaulles showed the witness 13 copies of the checks which were admitted into evidence, to see if there is a sign to indicate that each check was cashed by Faanu. The witness responded, no.

Before Judge Sunia rendered his decision, Morris said the government has presented solid evidence to prove probable cause and he asked the court to bind the case over to High Court.

deSaulles however argued that some of the solid evidence to determine probable cause, such as, who really cashed these checks — is missing. The defense attorney agreed that out of the 22 checks allegedly involved in the scheme, only 8 of them show probable cause. The other 14 are questionable.

Sunia, in the end, didn't find probable cause to bind over the 22 counts of embezzlement, but bound over to High Court the other 44 counts. Faanu is scheduled to appear for arraignment today at 9 a.m.