Lawyers argue over where the money went

ANCHORAGE — A sentencing hearing for the former Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission executive director turned more into a math problem, with federal prosecutors claiming she stole more than $420,000 and her attorney saying that’s too much.

The calculations will resume next week during the sentencing phase of the case against Maggie Ahmaogak.

Ahmaogak, who was the executive director of the commission for 17 years before she was fired in 2007, pleaded guilty in May to stealing commission funds.

In federal court in Anchorage, lawyers argued about just how much money she spent on herself, including money for gambling, snowmachines and a luxury Hummer SUV, the Anchorage Daily News reported (http://is.gd/Ai1HTu ).

Ahmaogak’s attorney said some of the money went to repay the whaling commission for legitimate expenses, but prosecutors contend she steered money to herself, family members, and in some cases the commissioners. She also approved a raise and bonus for herself, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Steward.

She hired inexperienced staff members in Barrow to hide the scam while Ahmaogak lived in Anchorage, and she billed the commission for use of her home, Steward said.

“It isn’t just bad bookkeeping here,” Steward said in court.

Ahmaogak’s attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, countered that she didn’t line her pockets, since large amounts of the money were intended to repay the commission for conference trips. He said poor accounting and various funding sources, some of them federal agencies, makes it difficult to sort out.

“Some of the money is money that was consistent with (the commission’s) purpose but not technically approved by a particular grant,” Fitzgerald said.

An Internal Revenue Service agent testified that Ahmaogak used the commission’s credit card to withdraw cash at casinos in the Caribbean, New Orleans and Las Vegas.

Special Agent Clinton Wight also testified she made other cash withdrawals and received fraudulent reimbursements for hotels and planet tickets, which either the commission or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration paid for.

One time, she also submitted a timesheet showing she worked more hours in a two-week period than there are actually hours, he said.

“So, even if the defendant worked 24 hours a day, didn’t stop to sleep or eat, it would be impossible to work this much?” Steward asked.

“Yes, based on what’s on the (pay) check,” Wight said.

Fitzgerald said he and Ahmaogak will continue to sort out the amount of money she took.

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