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Samoan travel agent faces yet another indictment for fraud

A Samoan travel agent, already facing federal charges in Missouri for defrauding a high school marching band, is facing identical charges in Arkansas for allegedly defrauding another high school marching band.


Both marching bands had wired money to Calliope R. Saaga for travel to Honolulu for separate trips in 2012 but the defendant allegedly used the money for his own benefit. In total, federal prosecutors says Saaga, who resides in Utah where one of his two travel businesses is located, stole more than half a million dollars combined from both marching bands.


Samoa News learned last week of the Arkansas charges, after new documents were filed with the Springfield federal court in Missouri.


In the Arkansas case, Saaga was indicted May 7— the same day the Missouri indictment was handed down—on three counts of wire fraud. The charges stem from three separate wire transfers totaling $272,500 between 2011 and 2012 from the Southside High School Marching Band for their trip to Hawai’i in the summer of 2012.


According to prosecutors, the money came from fundraising activities, by the Southside Band Parents Association, and payments made by school students and their parents.


The indictment states that Saaga had previously arranged the band’s trips to Hawai’i in 2006 and 2009, and that the trips rewarded the students for their hard work throughout the school year.


But the trip was canceled in 2012 because Saaga never made travel arrangements, despite the money already transferred to him. The payment covered airfare, lodging, transportation, meals, tours and travel insurance for students and their chaperones.


Conner Eldridge, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, says this case involves defrauding high school students and their parents “out of money set aside to take a once-in-a-lifetime band trip.”


“It is unfathomable that someone would take money from students seeking to do something worthwhile—in this case travel to perform as part of the Southside High School Band. We will continue to prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law,” Eldridge said in a June 9 news release.


David Resch, the FBI Special Agent in Charge for the Western District of Arkansas, said in the same news release, “This malicious scheme not only affected Southside High School but innocent students and parents as well. We appreciate our team in their efforts to aggressively investigate this case.”


Court records shows that Saaga was arraigned June 9 before U.S. Magistrate Judge James Marschewski and entered a 'not guilty' plea. Saaga is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond with the next court appearance next month.


If convicted, the defendant’s sentence will be determined by the court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record (if any), the defendant’s role in the offense, and the characteristics of the violations, according to prosecutors.


The sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum of 20 years for each count in this case and in most cases will be less than the maximum.


Meanwhile, the Springfield federal court has granted a defense motion to continue to next year Saaga’s trial on similar charges in Missouri, which was initially set for July 14 this year.  Saaga is charged in Missouri under a 15-count indictment.


Attorney David R. Mercer with the Federal Public Defender’s Office, who is representing the defendant, asked the court for a continuance to February next year, arguing that additional time is needed to conduct critical evaluations of the discovery, relevant guidelines, potential pretrial motions, and to make a thorough and complete evaluation of the case.


He said such an evaluation is essential to fully and effectively explore all options to resolve this matter. Additionally, discovery in this case is “complex and voluminous and will be tedious and time-consuming to effectively review.”


Mercer says the motion is made for the purpose of insuring that Saaga has every possible chance to fully defend this action. Further additional time is needed for defense counsel to prepare for trial and to provide complete advice to the Defendant as to his options for resolving this case.


In an order dated June 23, U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush granted the motion and set trial for Feb 23, 2015.


In this case Federal prosecutors allege that the defendant was wired $360,000 by Willard High School Band in Missouri to pay for a trip to Hawai’i in the summer of 2012 for 300 students and chaperones.


However, the defendant, who is out on unsecured bond, used the money to finance his personal lifestyle, which included travel to Samoa. He was charged last month under a 15-count indictment