FBI Probes Spending Of Am. Samoa Recovery Grant

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US Labor monies initially used to help workers after tsunami

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, August 12, 2013) – Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are looking into the spending of the $24.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) for recovery efforts, under the National Emergency Grant (NEG) program which was administered by the Department of Human Resources (DHR) in American Samoa.

Samoa News understands FBI agents, who departed the territory last Friday, had questioned HR employees that worked with the NEG program, including their supervisors and the HR Director.

NEG is the service capacity of the Workforce Investment Act Dislocated Worker training and employment programs which provides funding assistance in response to large, unexpected economic events which cause significant job losses. NEG’s first project in the territory was when Chicken of the Sea (COS) was scheduled to close permanently, and the American Samoa Government (ASG) began exploring ways to help the more than 2,000 workers transition to new jobs.

At the time, the canneries were the second largest private-sector employer in the territory and the third largest employer overall, aside from ASG. DHR staff, under the direction of former DHR Director Evelyn Vaitautolu-Langford, assembled a request to the US Department of Labor for a National Emergency Grant to aid COS workers who needed to transition to new jobs, training, or alternative careers. The request was approved and the DHR provided services.

The day before the plant was due to close, on September 29, 2012 — a deadly tsunami struck.

Dozens of coastal homes, sea crafts, businesses, parks, and developments were lost, including much of Pago Plaza — home to many federal agencies and professional service firms. Initially, the USDOL released $8,285,870 to create temporary jobs for eligible dislocated workers to assist in the territory’s cleanup and recovery efforts after the devastating tsunami.

Former NEG Manager Tuimavave Tauapa’i Laupola told Samoa News yesterday that after the release of the $8.2 million, they requested the remaining funds and USDOL awarded NEG an additional $16 million which funded other projects including the project between the Native Hawaiian Holding Company (NHHC) and the government.

NHHC signed the contract to provide training and employment for the contact center industry for 900 NEG participants and authorized it to operate job placement and supportive services in a setting that would serve as part of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Workforce System.

To date, HR Director Le’i Sonny Thompson is holding off on making the last payment of $1.5 million to NHHC citing "questionable costs and failure to comply with conditions of the contract" for the $3 million that was already paid out.

According to one of the HR employees who was questioned by FBI Agents, all the documents were handed over to the Department of Homeland Security which was investigating the case, before the NEG office was closed. The same copies were sent via air mail to the FBI Office in Hawai’i, Honolulu two weeks before the FBI agents arrived in the territory.

The HR employee told Samoa News the agents were seeking information on the spending of the NEG funds. Samoa News understands the FBI agents also questioned the attorneys and investigators who are working on the case.

As reported earlier, agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) OTICIDE are conducting an investigation into the spending of these federal dollars.

The investigation was launched following a recommendation by DHR Director Le'i, who said NHHC is in breach of their contract with the government and made a formal request to the Attorney General’s office, and the Office of the Inspector General in coordination with the US Department of Labor, "to take action" against NHHC for the breach of contract and to recover the $3 million already paid out.

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