Update: Sentencing for woman who used identities of children living in 2Samoas to obtain fed benefits
Seattle, WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors say an American Samoa woman who has pled guilty to fraud and theft made a “decision to steal, month after month and year after year, resulting in dozens of discrete acts of theft,” according the US Justice Department sentencing statement filed with the federal court in Seattle, Washington.
Forty year old, Iliganoa Theresa Lauofo, of Tacoma, Washington — who used identities of children living in American Samoa and Samoa to obtain federal benefits — pled guilty in January this year to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and embezzlement of mail by a postal employee.
She is scheduled for sentencing tomorrow, Nov. 17th, before US District Court Judge Richard A. Jones at the Seattle federal.
In the sentencing statement, federal prosecutors, recommended to the court 36 months of imprisonment for Lauofo, followed by three years of supervised release, — as outlined in the plea agreement, and ordered her to pay the agreed restitution of $267,639.69, which she stole between April 2011 and December 2018.
“This sentence is necessary to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to impose just punishment, and to deter future fraud by those who would follow defendant’s example,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin T. Diggs in the federal government’s sentencing statement.
He points out that the defendant committed fraud and theft “in an astonishing variety of ways”.
He asserted that Lauofo “lied over and over” to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) about her household composition and income in order to collect benefits she wasn’t entitled to.
“When that wasn’t enough, she used stolen identities of friends and family to collect several entirely separate suites of illegitimate benefits, supporting each of her phony personas with forged and fraudulent documents,” he further argued.
Additionally, Lauofo also used the same stolen identities, and others, to open bank and credit card accounts without their permission, and even funded those accounts with checks she stole from the mail while serving as U.S. Postal worker.
Even after she was investigated and interviewed by DSHS investigators and federal law enforcement agents, prosecutors said Lauofo “kept the fraud going, and even filed for tax credits and refunds for dependent family members she had already admitted to investigators she didn’t have.”
“And she kept this multiplicity of fraud going for years, cheating the state and federal government out of more than a quarter million dollars,” prosecutors said, and provided in details the defendant’s criminal acts which span for over more than 7 years.
Many specific details were previously outlined in the indictment when the defendant was charged in November 2019. For example, under the act of “fraud”, Lauofo falsely reported her household income and composition to DSHS by omitting her husband and his income, and including several children living in American Samoa or Western Samoa at the time they were listed by Lauofo as residing in her household, all to secure additional benefits.
In connection with her submissions to DSHS, Lauofo also stole and/or misused the identity information of 13 minor children who lived in American Samoa, in foreign countries, or otherwise outside of Washington State, and falsely listed them in her household in order to obtain additional DSHS food and childcare benefits, according to prosecutors.
When initially asked about these children by investigators, Lauofo falsely claimed they lived with her from 2012 through 2017 in Washington State, and only recently returned to American Samoa before the investigators’ interview.
Her false claims were supported by forged documentation, according to prosecutors, who also provided for the court a forged document from a physician. Additional forged documents were also provided by prosecutors for other illegal acts committed by the defendant.
NATURE & CIRCUMSTANCE OF OFFENSE
Prosecutors said the defendant’s fraud is aggravated in several respects. “First, the fraud loss of more than $260,000 over a span of more than seven years reflects the fact that this crime involved not a single incident of dishonesty or one-time lapse in judgment, but rather a separate decision to steal, month after month and year after year, resulting in dozens of discrete acts of theft,” according to prosecutor.
“Nor was defendant content to defraud one program or agency, but instead, she used multiple strategies and schemes: claiming to provide child care for children who didn’t live with her; pretending to be other people providing child care for her own children; defrauding the IRS with false tax returns; opening bank accounts and credit cards in stolen identities—the list of crimes goes on and on, involving not just fraud on DSHS, but also bank fraud, credit card fraud, stolen checks from the mail as a postal carrier, tax fraud, and identity theft,” the prosecutor further argued.
Additionally, the defendant went to significant lengths to invent a supporting structure for the false reality she created, complete with notes from made-up doctors and landlords about children that were actually living thousands of miles away.
“More brazenly, she telephoned in monthly to claim payment — in her identity and those stolen from friends and family — for child care she did not actually provide,” prosecutor point out. “Each time she took these steps or made these false claims, defendant should have known what she was doing was wrong.”
“What makes this repeated conduct even more troubling is that it continued after Defendant was twice interviewed by criminal investigators and confronted with her theft,” said prosecutors.
Prosecutors told the court that the defendant has no history of criminal conduct, and the government is not aware of any history of addiction or other compulsions that can sometimes accompany fraud.
“She has a large family, and presumably used the extra stolen benefits to help support it,” said prosecutors. “Of course, many beneficiaries of public assistance — and many others who receive none — struggle to support their families and pay their bills, yet follow the rules and take their fair share.”
“Instead, Lauofo exploited the system at every turn, and continued doing so even after being confronted,” said prosecutors, who noted that the report from the Probation Office describes a relatively stable upbringing for the defendant — “though the government acknowledges the abusive punishment suffered at the hands of her father”.
Samoa News will report in tomorrow’s edition the defendant’s sentencing statement, which includes her father’s abusive behavior growing up in American Samoa.