An Anchorage couple is accused of receiving more than $36,000 in illegal Permanent Fund dividends after lying on applications while their family lived in Hawaii in 2008 and 2009, according to the state Department of Revenue.
The annual Alaska payout is supposed to go only to eligible residents who are not gone from the state more than 180 days in the year before applying, among other conditions.
Brian Faatiliga, 31, his wife Vaealemasina Faatiliga, 33, and their six children received the yearly payment in 2008 and 2009, state officials said. But the Faatiligas were ineligible because they'd been living in Hawaii and receiving benefits there from November 2007 to August 2008, the Department of Revenue says.
Fraud investigators said an anonymous tip about the Faatiligas led to their prosecution. A Juneau grand jury indicted Brian Faatiliga on Friday on four felony fraud counts, as well as felonies for allegedly lying on documents and theft. The jury indicted Vaealemasina Faatiliga on four felony counts of theft and lying on documents.
The family cashed or deposited a total of $36,592 in Permanent Fund Dividend checks, the applications for which were illegal due to their time in Hawaii, the revenue department says.
"They weren't using this money to buy heating oil, we can assume that," said department spokeswoman Lacy Wilcox. "They might've been using it to buy sun tan oil."
Brian and Vaealemasina Faatiliga also are under investigation in Hawaii for allegedly receiving public assistance, including food stamps and cash assistance, during times that they were allegedly living in Alaska, Wilcox said. The family moved back and forth between Alaska and Hawaii, with the parents sometimes in different states, Wilcox said. The Alaska crimes for which the Faatiligas are charged involve times that investigators say neither was residing in Alaska, Wilcox said. The family apparently is living in Anchorage now, she said.
Though many Alaskans would likely focus on the Faatiligas "living the good life in Hawaii," Wilcox said -- the dividend has historically been viewed as compensation for the harsh winters and high cost of living in Alaska -- it was the large amount of allegedly stolen money the family took that made the case a priority for investigators in the department's Criminal Investigation Unit. The "high price tag" made it stand out from other cases, for example, a person making a simple mistake on an application, Wilcox said.
So far in 2012, the investigation unit's efforts have led to three indictments for Permanent Fund Dividend fraud, Wilcox said. There were "a handful" of cases last year for the unit, which also handles tax and child support fraud, she said.
In 2011, the investigation unit received about 630 tips related to suspected dividend fraud on 1,214 applications, Wilcox said. Only about 50 were deemed subject to administrative penalties and 18 were recommended for prosecution, she said. Of those, 15 were related to residency issues, Wilcox said.
The Faatiligas will permanently lose their dividend eligibility if they are convicted. The couple could also face jail time and thousands of dollars in fines if found guilty.
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