Mother jailed for theft of "public funds"

The Supreme Court has sentenced a former Government official to seven months imprisonment in relation to the theft of public funds to the tune of $15,000.

The defendant and 46-year-old, Mary Elen Galuega, had previously worked for the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Sentenced by Supreme Court Justice, Tologata Leilani Tuala-Warren, the mother-of-three was seen in Court shedding tears while her fate was being handed down on Wednesday.

Justice Tuala-Warren said she accepted that the defendant’s remorse was genuine and acknowledged the restitution of $5,000 as well as her prior good character references and personal circumstances.

The defendant’s personal circumstances were that she was the sole breadwinner of three children – the eldest being 24 years of age and the youngest 7-years-old – as well as having a wheelchair-bound husband and an elderly mother.

“You also have very positive character references from family members, your mother, husband and aunty, your church and village representatives who are the village mayor,” said Justice Tuala-Warren.

“You are described as a hardworking, loving and caring and supportive mother and wife who is active in both family affairs in village and church affairs.”

The defendant’s penalty was described by Justice Tologata as an "extremely lenient" sentencing, despite the clear cut punishments set out for charges of theft as a servant.

“I stress that what is involved here is public money,” Justice Tuala-Warren emphasised. “As the Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said, it is intended for the funding of Government developments and projects for the betterment of the whole of Samoa.”

“And whilst I accept as mitigating your personal circumstances and the sole caregiver for your wheelchair-bound husband, seven-year-old son and elderly mother, that does not make this case exceptional.

“The appropriate starting point for the sentence is three and half year’s imprisonment. Accordingly from that starting point, I deduct 8 months for the restitution you have paid, 10 months for your prior good character, seven months for your remorse, and 10 months for your personal circumstances.”

While working as a staff member of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the defendant claimed she dropped $15,000 tala cash when she made her way to the A.N.Z. Bank in April 2018. At that time she had been with the Ministry since 2003.

She was found guilty of one count of theft by the Supreme Court in October and had pleaded not guilty to the charge and was represented by lawyer, Unasa Iuni Sapolu.

While handing down the sentence, Justice Tuala-Warren noted that theft as a servant is “very prevalent” and the most common offence seen in the courtrooms. Her sentence commencement date has been deferred to February 8, 2021.

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