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Woman arraigned for identity theft; passport, PFD and benefits fraud

By Hope Miller 4:29 PM May 19, 2014

A 43-year-old woman was arraigned Monday on federal charges that she committed identity theft and falsely said she was a U.S. citizen so she could receive state and federal benefits, authorities said.

An indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury back in April, charges Maualuga Leaana with one count of passport fraud, nine counts of making bogus claims of U.S. citizenship and one count of aggravated identity theft, said the Anchorage district attorney’s office in a statement.

Leaana is a citizen of Samoa, the indictment says, which was known as Western Samoa until 1997. Although people born in American Samoa hold U.S. nationality at birth, citizens of Samoa are not U.S. citizens.

Leaana allegedly applied for and obtained a U.S. passport in her sister’s name, who is also citizen of Samoa, the indictment says. She is also charged with falsely claiming U.S. citizenship on applications for benefits — such as Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends, unemployment benefits and subsidized housing — and getting an ID from the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles.

According to the indictment, Leaana raked in more than $14,000 from PFDs from 2003 and 2013 and illegally collected over $17,000 in unemployment benefits. She faces a maximum prison term of 10 years for passport fraud and an additional two years for identity theft. Each false claim of citizenship charge has a maximum five-year term of imprisonment, the district attorney’s office said. Each of the counts she’s facing carries a maximum fine of $250,000.

Leaana came to the U.S. in 1998 with a Western Samoa passport and lawfully remained in the country on a student visa, the indictment says. The visa expired in 1999 and there is no record of Leaana leaving the country.

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