22 May 2004

American Samoan charged with stealing school lunches

6:29 am on 22 May 2004

The head of the school lunch programme for the American Samoa public school system has been charged with conspiring with others to steal at least US68,000 in food and goods intended for students.

Toetu Solaita was charged yesterday in documents filed by the US Department of Justice in federal District Court in Honolulu.

Solaita was responsible for managing, approving requests, and distributing all food and goods purchased by the American Samoa Department of Education. The food and goods were stored in a warehouse in Pago Pago.

The school lunch programme is paid for, in part with funds from the US Department of Education and the US National School Lunch Programme, which requires all food purchased for the programme to be used solely for feeding students in the school system.

The American Samoa School Lunch Programme received US$32 million in federal money from October 2002 to September 2003.

According to court documents, from October 2002 to April 2003, Solaita and unidentified others obtained food and goods through fraudulent requests and approvals.

He, and his conspirators, allegedly agreed that if any employee working for the school lunch programme wished to take food from the warehouse, they needed to submit requests to Solaita, who approved the requests, the documents say.

Among the fraudulent requests allegedly approved by Solaita were two in October and December 2002, for a total of nearly US$33,000 in food goods.