ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An American Samoan woman living in Anchorage has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of falsely claiming tax refunds for 28 residents of the territory.
Pepe Anetipa, 58, made false claims for refunds totaling $202,859, according to federal prosecutors.
Anetipa was arrested Dec. 2 in Washington state and arraigned Dec. 18 in Anchorage. She pleaded not guilty and her trial is set for Feb. 9. Messages left with her appointed attorney, assistant public defender Jamie McGrady, were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Citizens of American Samoa at birth are granted U.S. nationality and can apply for Social Security numbers. They are not required to file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service if their income is earned within the territory.
Prosecutors in the indictment said Anetipa moved to Anchorage in July 2011 and obtained a business license seven months later for a tax preparation company, Triple H Tax and Services.
Anetipa transferred wage information from American Samoa tax statements to W-2 wage and tax statements, falsely indicating wages of the 28 people were earned in Alaska or Texas, according to the indictment. She then filed tax forms for government refunds, prosecutors said.
The refunds sought ranged from $2,312 to $10,840.
Melvin Joseph, a former American Samoa Tax Office manager and now a local Treasury Department tax consultant, said he expects more charges.
"This federal indictment and case is just the tip of the iceberg," he said.
Joseph said Tuesday that he and former Gov. Togiola Tulafono had warned residents not to file taxes in the states.
"Filing with the IRS is not only illegal under federal laws, but it's a great loss of revenues for our local government over the past years," he said.
American Samoa residents who filed in the states may have been seeking large refund checks through the Earned Income Tax Credit, for which territory residents are not entitled, he said.
The FBI and the IRS are seeking more information about residents filing taxes in the U.S, said the current local Tax Office manager, Richard Jimmerson.
"Interest from the FBI and IRS has increased in the past months to help clean up this problem and we are working with federal investigators," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Bradley told KTUU-television that Anetipa kept much of the money from false claims but paid some to the original taxpayers. No other charges are immediately planned, he said.
Fili Sagapolutele reported from Pago Pago, American Samoa.
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