Treasurer affirms certain CARES Act funds NOT used improperly
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — ASG Treasurer Malemo L. Tausaga, in a sworn affidavit filed with the federal court in Washington D.C., which is hearing a constitutional rights lawsuit brought by local resident Steven Jay Pincus Hueter, says CARES Act funds allocated to Fono members have been returned to ASG and no CARES Act money was improperly allocated for construction of a court house building.
The American Samoa defendants, along with federal defendants — the US Secretary of Interior and the Chief Justice of American Samoa — are named in the federal lawsuit filed by Hueter last December, followed by a second amended complaint earlier this year claiming violation of his constitutional rights, such as freedom to assemble and attend religious services due to local COVID-19 restrictions.
Malemo’s affidavit is included in the American Samoa defendants response filed last Wednesday to Hueter’s second motion for a preliminary injunction. The suit includes current and former ASG officials, and among other things, seeks to prevent the defendants from the alleged misuse of CARES Act money allocated to ASG to build a new court house building and fund offices for Fono members - both are not COVID-19 related.
Attorneys for the American Samoa defendants argued that the “only factual predicate for plaintiff’s request” for an injunction pertaining to CARES Act money is a Nov. 17, 2020 Samoa News article, “which is hearsay perpetuating hearsay.”
“In contrast to Plaintiff’s unreliable double hearsay,” the defense said Malemo has provided “sworn testimony illustrating that neither Plaintiff’s allegations, nor the November 17, 2020 article he relies upon, are accurate.”
The Nov. 17th story in question, refers to what former Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga (who is one of the ASG defendants) said at the ground breaking of the new court house building, that COVID-19 pandemic brought $35 million in federal funds allocated to American Samoa. And $2.3 million of this money is allocated for the new court building.
Samoa News had reported a few times last year, about the July 14, 2020 letter from Deputy Inspector General of the US Department of Treasury Richard Delmar to then-ASG Treasurer Ueligitone Tonumaipea that stipend payments made to the Fono — $20,000 each to the Senate President and House Speaker and $10,000 each for Fono members — have to be returned.
In his Mar. 16th sworn “Declaration”, Malemo said he had reviewed all supporting documentation regarding allocation and disbursement of CARES Act funds by ASG.
Initially, each member of the Senate and House were issued payments from the CARES Act, totaling $410,000 and in August 2020, those payments were returned, according to the ASG Treasurer.
“Namely the payments were transferred out of the Corona Relief Fund account and posted to the American Samoa Government general fund local account,” he explained. “The Corona Relief Fund was reimbursed in full for the payments to the Fono.”
“No funds from the CARES Act or Corona Relief Funds were issued or will be released to the High Court or court construction,” Malemo declared.
The defense informs the court that, Malemo has attested that although each member of the Fono was issued payments from the Corona Relief Fund those payments were returned in August 2020; and “notwithstanding what the Samoa News article says, no CARES Act Funds or Corona Relief Funds were allocated or used towards any High Court building, including the demolition or construction of the High Court.”
Samoa News was told by two ASG officials in January this year that the money given to the Fono was paid back to the ASG Coronavirus Relief Fund from the ASG general fund. And an ASG Treasury report to the House last month shows a transfer from the ASG general fund.
Samoa News however points out that what remains unclear at this point is to whether each lawmaker paid back the CARES Act money given to them and then the money was transferred to the ASG Coronavirus Relief Fund from the ASG general fund, or was it just paid back by a ‘transfer’ from the general fund with ‘no repaid’ by most lawmakers.
As previously reported by Samoa News, and has also been public information, is that Reps. Larry Sanitoa, Sam Meleisea and Vesiai Poyer Samuelu returned their checks, even before the US Treasury-OIG report was issued in July. In the Senate last year, it was Sens. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean and Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga T. Nua — who late last year requested the previous administration to use some of the CARES Act funds for hospital needs — returned their checks.
DEFENDANTS’ SUMMARY REPLY
In it’s 50-page response filing last Wednesday, the defense said that the plaintiff’s latest motion seeks a series of sweeping injunctions against all of the American Samoa defendants to generally restrain them from infringing on Plaintiff’s constitutional rights, enjoins them from enforcing COVID-19 restrictions, compels them to reallocate certain Treasury funds, and to dictate the ASG’s maritime enforcement policies.
While Hueter’s latest motion, “is not exactly clear, it appears that Plaintiff seeks sweeping relief that would permit him to undertake any activities that are said to be an expression of religious freedom or his freedom of assembly without regard to any COVID-19 restrictions.”
“Such relief would vastly increase the risk of maintaining American Samoa at zero cases until vaccinations become available,” the defense argued — (but it should be noted that the vaccine is available on island and vaccinations have been ongoing for several weeks now.)
In conclusion, the defendants represented by the Washington D.C. based law firm of Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP — asked the court to deny plaintiff’s motion without a hearing.