Former Employees of Samoa LSC Affiliate Sentenced for Embezzlement

Legal Services Corporation logoOn the surface, Julie and Andrea Matau were rescuing females from abusive relationships. Beneath the surface, however, they were abusing taxpayer trust. On March 28, the mother and daughter were sentenced in Oakland, Calif. federal court for their roles in the theft of nearly $160,000 in grant money from the Samoa-based Legal Services Corporation (LSC) affiliate that employed them. Julie Matau received a sentence of one year and a day in prison, plus three years of supervised release, while her daughter received a sentence of 12 months of probation, including six months of home detention. They also were ordered to perform community service and make full restitution. Another former employee of the LSC grantee, David Wagner, several days later on April 2 was sentenced in St. Louis federal court to five months in prison for taking part in the scheme.

Julie Matau, 49, and her daughter, Andrea Matau, 28, served, respectively, as grants administrator and legal assistant of an American Samoa-based nonprofit legal group, the U’una’i Legal Services Corporation (ULSC). This entity was established to provide free legal services to low-income victims of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual abuse. It’s now defunct. There’s a reason why, too. According to federal prosecutors, the pair, along with David Wagner, also helped themselves to a combined $159,763 from a federal pot of grant money in excess of $1.2 million that had been disbursed during August 2005-September 2007. The funds came from Legal Services Corp. and the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women. At the time, Wagner was ULSC’s acting executive director. He and Julie Matau had full authority over the nonprofit group’s finances. That would prove to be a major problem.

Court documents show that during September 2005-September 2007, Matau and Wagner diverted ULSC grant money to themselves, Andrea Matau and various relatives of the Mataus. Of the nearly $160,000 stolen, Julie Matau, Andrea Matau, David Wagner and the Mataus’ relatives received respective sums of $65,649, $24,634, $31,292 and $38,188. Much of the money was diverted via checks disguised as “salary advances.” A review of accounting discrepancies triggered a joint investigation by the FBI and the Offices of Inspector General within each of LSC and the Justice Department. The findings led to grand jury indictments unsealed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Julie and Andrea Matau and in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against David Wagner.

It was only a matter of time before the dominoes fell. Wagner was first, pleading guilty in March 2010 to theft of federal funds. Nearly two years later, in December 2011, Julie and Andrea Matau pleaded guilty, respectively, to wire fraud and misdemeanor theft. The sentences for all three were handed down early this spring. As part of the sentences, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken also ordered Julie and Andrea Matau to pay $159,763 in restitution, to be paid jointly and severally. U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson, in her case, held Wagner jointly and severally responsible for $31,292 of that total. Domestic violence in Samoa may be a problem, but funneling taxpayer money to this crew, in retrospect, wasn’t an effective way of preventing it.