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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (March 1, 1999 - Samoa News/PACNEWS)---The investigation of alleged embezzlement and fraud involving the local food stamp program is now in the hands of the Territory's Task Force on Public Corruption and White Collar Crimes, which is headed by Program Manager Assistant Attorney General Frederick J. O'Brien.

Governor Tauese Sunia ordered the investigation three weeks ago, after three audits revealed improprieties with the operation of the program.

Sources in the government said on Friday that 11 people are now under investigation, which was confirmed in a list of those under investigation that was given to Samoa News by an anonymous source.

One ranking government official said that the people now being investigated are mostly employed by the food stamp program, but there are others outside the office who also are suspects.

"The investigation is focusing on two issues: people from the program issuing food stamps to those who are ineligible and the second is the recycling of food stamps," said a government official who is familiar with the matter.

A top official of the food stamp program is among the 11 people currently under investigation for embezzlement, according to the list.

The program disburses monthly food vouchers for infants, mothers, the elderly and the disabled, who redeem the vouchers at selected stores, which then submit their coupons to the government for reimbursement.

The audits found that the department administering the program was paying out more money than the value of food vouchers issued, and that food vouchers were being redeemed for cash or issued to "ghost" recipients and ineligible people.

Late last week, the Attorney General's office issued stop orders to prevent those under investigation from leaving the territory.

The American Samoa government receives US$ 5.3 million dollars each year from the U.S. federal government for the program. The average monthly voucher amounts to US$ 125.

Stories from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

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