Washington postal worker charged in 17-count indictment for seven year, $230,000+ benefits fraud scheme, mail theft

Lied about family status, falsely claimed dependents, stole mail, and used relatives’ ID information to open credit and bank accounts

Seattle – A 39-year-old Tacoma resident was charged today in an indictment alleging wire fraud, theft of public funds, Social Security number misuse, aggravated identity theft, and embezzlement of mail by a postal employee. The indictment alleges ILIGANOA THERESA LAUOFO illegally collected more than $230,000 over the course of a fraud scheme that began in 2011 and continued until 2018. LAUOFO will make her initial appearance on December 5, 2019, at 9:00 a.m. in Seattle.

According to the indictment, 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 and income assistance, by claiming her husband did not live with the family. LAUOFO submitted falsified documents to bolster the claim that her husband lived elsewhere. Had her husband’s income been counted, she would not have qualified for the assistance she received. LAUOFO also stole and misused the identity information of minor children who lived in American Samoa, claiming they resided with her when they did not. By claiming these children, she received additional food and childcare benefits. LAUOFO submitted forged letters from doctors and landlords to support her claim that the children resided with her.

Additionally, starting in 2015, LAUOFO used the identity information of two family members residing in California and an acquaintance in American Samoa to receive additional benefits including food assistance, cash assistance, and childcare funds. She claimed still more children—again, actually living in American Samoa—were residing with her under these three false identities and created letters and documents to bolster those claims as well. All told, LAUOFO received more than $220,000 from this scheme to which she was not entitled.

The alleged fraud did not end with stolen benefits. LAUOFO used 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. She 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 two 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.

LAUOFO is charged with six counts of wire fraud, four counts of theft of public funds, three counts of Social Security number misuse, three counts of aggravated identity theft and one count of embezzlement of mail by a postal employee.

Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Theft of public funds is punishable by up to ten years in prison. Social Security number misuse and embezzlement by a postal employee are each 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 charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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.