Tacoma woman pleads guilty to three federal felonies related to 7-year benefit fraud scheme
Former postal worker also admits embezzling from the mail
Seattle –A 39-year-old Tacoma resident pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and embezzlement of mail by a postal employee. ILIGANOA THERESA LAUOFO illegally collected more than $267,000 over the course of a fraud scheme that began in 2011 and continued until 2018. LAUOFO is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones on April 17, 2020.
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 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, 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 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.
Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and embezzlement by a postal employee is punishable by up to five years in prison. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by a mandatory consecutive two-year prison term to follow any punishment imposed on the other counts of conviction. The ultimate sentence will be determined by the Court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The case is being 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 is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Diggs. Mr. Diggs is an attorney with the Social Security Administration, specially designated to prosecute fraud cases in federal court.