Troopers: Woman drained dead Palmer man’s bank account
An Anchorage woman has been charged with stealing a dead man’s life savings from his bank account, after a Mat-Su search for him led to his wrecked car.
Alaska State Troopers say Susana Lepou, 30, faces three counts of second-degree theft and two counts of criminal use of a computer in connection with the theft from 30-year-old Palmer resident Keith Aumavae. He was last seen on Oct. 19, and found dead weeks later in his wrecked vehicle at the base of a cliff overlooking Cook Inlet near the Knik-Goose Bay Airport.
“Investigation revealed Lepou was an employee at Mr. Aumavae’s bank when she illegally accessed Mr. Aumavae’s account in December of 2017,” troopers wrote in an online dispatch Wednesday. “There is no indication that Lepou knew Mr. Aumavae. Lepou is no longer an employee of the bank.”
Rachel Aumavae, Keith Aumavae’s sister, said troopers had been in touch with the family during the investigation, which was prompted by the emptying of Keith’s account at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union.
“It was a little over a thousand dollars,” Aumavae said. “They have already served search warrants to Alaska USA regarding other accounts she has touched in the past.”
Troopers confirmed that additional victims had been found in the case, with further charges expected after her arrest Tuesday afternoon. According to AST spokeswoman Megan Peters, investigators were aware of one other victim so far Wednesday morning.
“Lepou was remanded to the Anchorage Jail, and held pending her arraignment,” troopers wrote.
According to an affidavit against Lepou by Sgt. Ronald Hayes, a February investigation of “suspicious bank activity” regarding Aumavae’s account began in response to concerns from his family. A statement from Alaska USA showed two withdrawals to Lepou’s account – $800 and $203.20 – on Dec. 23 and a day later, on Christmas Eve.
In a recorded phone interview, Lepou told Hayes she had worked for about a year at the credit union’s call center taking information from customers. She was fired Feb. 13 for an unspecified policy violation.
Hayes said Lepou’s personnel file showed that she was terminated for “violating Alaska USA policy by accessing a customer’s account over 100 times by electronic means when she had no reason to do so,” a claim she acknowledged in a meeting with managers.
“The account Lepou accessed was not Keith’s account, but another customer who closed out her account based on the unauthorized accessing of her account by Lepou,” Hayes wrote.
During the recorded call, Hayes said Lepou denied knowledge of the transactions involving Keith Aumavae – until Hayes told her Alaska USA would have records of them, and “if she knew something about it, now was the time to talk to me.”
“Lepou then admitted to knowing about the transactions and stated she had [stolen] the money,” Hayes said. “Lepou took the money out of Keith’s account and used it for Christmas.”
Although Lepou also denied knowing about Keith Aumavae’s death, Hayes found that “highly unlikely” due to Anchorage’s close-knit American Samoan community.
In addition, an investigator with troopers’ Financial Crimes Unit found that $400 had been transferred “into and out” of Lepou’s account from the account of a woman who died in 2015. When troopers asked Alaska USA about that transfer, the credit union didn’t give further details but said it was “opening a theft/fraud investigation into Lepou’s activities.”
In an email Wednesday afternoon, Alaska USA officials declined to discuss details of the credit union's handling of the case. They emphasized, however, that Alaska USA "promptly investigates fraudulent activity" and that any account affected by unauthorized and fraudulent transactions is "fully reimbursed."
"While we cannot comment about the specifics regarding member accounts, after thoroughly investigating activity related to this particular matter, we concluded the fraudulent activity was isolated to a single member account," Alaska USA officials said.
In his affidavit, Hayes said Lepou told him she was “afraid of what was going to happen to her.”
“Lepou asked if this was going to make the news,” Hayes wrote. “I advised Lepou that I had no control of what the media releases.”
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