Seattle –A 40-year-old Tacoma resident was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 27 months in prison for wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and embezzlement of mail by a postal employee. ILIGANOA THERESA LAUOFO illegally collected more than $276,000 over the course of a fraud scheme that began in 2011 and continued until 2018. At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones noted, “There are large families across this country who have no source of income and mouths to feed…. You had no right to go out and lie and cheat and steal your way.… You told a persistent and protracted series of lies.”
“This defendant was unrelenting in her efforts to defraud the systems we rely on to help the neediest in our communities. She persisted even after authorities made clear they were investigating her fraud scheme,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. “At a time when many are struggling to make ends meet because of COVID-19, we must safeguard federal resources for those who need assistance.”
According to records in the case, LAUOFO lied about her household composition and income, used stolen identities to claim additional benefits and open bank and credit accounts, and stole checks from the mail during a period when she was employed by the U.S. Postal Service. Between April 2011 and December 2018, LAUOFO applied for welfare benefits, including food, childcare, and income assistance, by claiming her husband did not live with the family, and submitted falsified documents to bolster that claim. Had her husband’s income been counted, she would not have qualified for all the assistance she received. In addition to the benefits claimed in her own name, LAUOFO applied for and received additional benefits in stolen identities of friends and family members. Across those various identities, LAUOFO also stole and misused the identity information of 13 minor children who lived in American Samoa and Western Samoa, claiming they resided with her (or her alternate identities) when they did not. By claiming these children, she received additional food and childcare benefits. In all, LAUOFO fraudulently received $222,294 in overpaid benefits.
LAUOFO falsely claimed the children on her tax filings, resulting in over $35,000 in tax credits and refunds that she did not deserve.
The fraud did not end with stolen benefits. LAUOFO used some of the identities she stole to open bank and credit accounts. She opened one of those accounts in the name of her ex-husband three years after he died and deposited worthless checks in the bank account and quickly withdrew cash before the bank realized the fraud. More than $10,000 in loss resulted from that conduct.
Finally, in March 2018, when LAUOFO was employed by the U.S. Postal Service as a letter carrier, she stole and deposited checks from the mail she was assigned to deliver. She deposited the checks into an account in the name of one of the identities she had stolen in the benefits fraud scheme. Later, in April 2018, LAUOFO discarded and destroyed more than 200 pieces of mail, later admitting she threw the mail in a dumpster so she could complete her route more quickly.
“By stealing this money, she compromised the integrity of these programs and, in her way, drew down the resources that will be available to those beneficiaries who play by the rules…. Fraud and theft like Defendant’s … have a corrosive effect on the public’s belief that programs like these, motivated by compassion and dependent on honesty, can work as intended. And when people lie to social agencies about the basic circumstances of their lives, these agencies must use their limited resources to detect and investigate fraud instead of delivering benefits,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
LAUOFO was ordered to serve three years of supervised release following prison and is obligated to pay $276,639 in restitution.
The case was investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG), Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Office of Fraud and Accountability (DSHS/OFA), and the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General (USPS-OIG).
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Diggs.