SALT LAKE CITY — A married couple from Utah County have been charged in federal court for allegedly defrauding multiple victims, including one "vulnerable adult," out of a combined $3.65 million.
The U.S. Attorney's Office announced Friday that 57-year-old Misiona Patane (husband) and 54-year-old Lavinia Patane (wife) were being charged with stealing money from a foundation meant to help people in and from Samoa. They're charged with two counts of bank fraud and three counts of money laundering.
In a separate charge, Misiona is accused of defrauding $2.4 million from a court-monitored trust. He's charged with four counts of wire fraud, six counts of aggravated identity theft and one count of kidnapping.
In the first alleged scam, the suspects are accused of stealing money over the course of several years for the foundation they both worked for. In 2011, Misiona became the director of a foundation started by a professional athlete (whose name was not released) and Lavinia was named as an officer.
Over several years, federal prosecutors say Lavinia "wrote numerous checks, made deposits, and made cash withdrawals from the foundation" without the founder's knowledge or permission. The court records also say the couple diverted $1.25 million in tax refunds belonging to the founder and his wife, then used it for their personal use. This allegedly occurred from 2015-2017.
In the other case, Misiona is accused of "keeping a vulnerable adult in Samoa for more than a year under false pretenses" in order to "fraudulently obtain more funds from a trust meant for the benefit and care of the adult."
Prosecutors say the victim was a 26-year-old who suffered a permanent traumatic brain injury in a car crash when they were under two years old.
From 2016 to 2018, the Patanes are accused of stealing $2.4 million dollars from a trust that was established to manage the finances and daily care for the victim. The trust allowed two of the victim's family members, designated as co-guardians, to approve financial withdrawals from the trust for expenses related to the victim's care.
Court documents state that the couple used money from the trust for their own personal expenses, and they withdrew the funds "under the guise of helping to provide services and pay for expenses related to [the victim]’s care." Authorities say Misiona did this by sending emails and fraudulent documents to the victim's guardians and financial advisor — sometimes as himself, but other times impersonating other "third parties."
Prosecutors allege that as part of the scheme, Misiona claimed the victim had to stay in Samoa because of a court order and could be arrested if they attempted to leave. Prosecutors say this was false and that Misiona did this to "fraudulently obtain more funds from a trust meant for the benefit and care of the adult."
The U.S. Attorney's Office also says some of the allegations occurred while Misiona was on probation for a previous federal conviction for fraud.
The authorities ask that anyone who believes they may be a victim of fraud by the couple to contact the United States Attorney’s Office Victim Coordinator at 801-325-1430.
While the U.S. Attorney's Office is prosecuting the case, the investigation is being led by IRS Criminal Investigation.