Polynesian Airlines Ex-Manager Charged With Embezzlement

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Mata’utia put on suspended sentence for taking $11,380

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, March 6, 2013) – A former Acting Manager of Polynesian Airlines Pago Pago station, charged in connection with the alleged theft of $11,380.44, was sentenced to 28 months in jail as part of her seven year sentence handed down by Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond.

Judy Mata’utia was initially charged with embezzlement and passing bad checks, however the plea deal with the government had the defendant pleading guilty to embezzlement, while the charge of passing bad checks was dismissed.

The embezzlement charge is a class C felony, punishable by up to seven years imprisonment, a fine of $5,000 or a fine equal to twice the amount of gain from the commission of said crime, up to a maximum of $20,000, or both fine and imprisonment.

The defendant in tears apologized for her actions to the American Samoa government, the court, Polynesian Airlines, the Samoa Government, her husband, her mother and her son for her actions.

Mata’utia noted that she trusts the system and the court will do right in handing down sentencing in her case and pleaded with the court for leniency. Assistant Public Defender Mike White noted that the defendant owned up to her responsibilities and has paid $2,000 restitution to the airline; also she has no prior record.

Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop, asked the court to sentence the defendant to the maximum allowable under the law in this case, given the significant amount of money stolen from the airline, but she also did not oppose probation for the defendant.

Jessop noted the defendant has said that she trusts the system, and the system has prosecuted her and now she’s being forced to take responsibility for her actions.

"Hindsight is always 20/20," said Jessop. "She did this over a course of seven months, she did not do it once, then went home and looked at her son and realized that what she did was wrong. No, she continued to steal from the airline over a lengthy period."

Jessop noted that the defendant apologized to her husband, her son and her mother, yet she failed to apologize to the people of American Samoa as the consumers who will pay for this. She said the airline will now have to increase the airfare to cover their losses, given the defendant’s actions.

"One of life’s harshest lessons is that one person makes a choice and others have to pay the consequence of that choice," said Jessop.

The Deputy Attorney General noted that also sending the defendant to jail would be deterrence for others who are committing the same crime, given the increase of theft in the territory.

"She needs to be clear that this behavior is unacceptable. We have too many stealing cases and people need to understand they can’t do this," said Jessop.

Richmond sentenced the defendant to seven years in prison however execution of sentence is suspended and defendant has been placed on probation for five years under the condition that she serves 28 months in jail, pays a fine of $1,000, and pays restitution on the remaining balance of $9,380.44.

The court also rescheduled a status hearing on this matter to be held April 1, 2013 to give the defendant time to come up with a payment plan. The court on that day may also amend the jail sentence.

During a plea agreement held in this case, the defendant admitted that she embezzled money from the Samoa Government owned airline from March 2010 to October 2011. When asked how much money was involved, Mata’utia responded that she didn't know.

The defendant noted she understood the conditions of the plea agreement. According to court documents, Mata’utia was acting area manager for Polynesian Airline's office in Pago Pago between March and October of 2010, when the crime occurred.

According to the government’s case, Mata’utia used the money for her personal use and allegedly fabricated bank deposit slips and forwarded the deposit slips to the airline’s main office in Samoa.

The incident came to light when the airline's manager in the Apia office saw one deposit slip was submitted twice, and out of suspicion the airline obtained bank records and statements during its probe and discovered the discrepancies.

According to the government the defendant is also charged with one count of passing bad checks by writing six checks from her personal bank account, which had already been closed.

The checks, made out to Polynesian Airlines, were allegedly used to balance some of the cash she had taken from the deposits.

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