Fraudster still owes victims $232,186 court hears as seven year sentence is handed down to man described as ‘very high risk to community’

The Supreme Court has sentenced Filimone To’aho  to seven years for eight counts of receiving money by false pretences.

Filimone Tō’aho

The court was told he had acted with “blatant dishonesty.”

To’aho’s offending consisted of taking deposits and instalment payments for imported vehicles and engines which never arrived

In total, he obtained a sum of TP$243,486 and re-imbursed $11,300 to his customers a total of TP$232,186 remain outstanding.

The court was told that he had been engaged in the same kind of fraud in 2017.

To’aho, who was described during the trial as a “very high risk to the community”,  was found guilty on October 27 last year after a two week trial.

Acting Lord Chief Justice Tupou, KC, released a summary of his sentencing decision earlier this month.

In the first case Siale Filimone, a building inspector with the Ministry of Infrastructure, saw an ad for a three-tonne Isuzu truck for TP$25,000 on Facebook in March 2020.

The ad was placed by To’aho, who asked for a TP$6000 deposit, with the rest to be paid by installment. The accused said the vehicle was being shipped to Tonga.  When it did not arrive To’aho blamed it on Covid-19.

In all Filimone paid TP$18,700. The vehicle never arrived and she did not receive her money back.

In the second case ‘Ana Noelangi Tautua’a of Faama Vava’u, saw an ad for a black 2015 Toyota Harrier for TP$16,900 on Fobby’s Print Tonga’s Facebook page, which was managed by To’aho.

Tautua’a wanted to buy the vehicle as a gift for her mother on Mother’s Day. She was told she would get her vehicle 28 days from the date of the ad. She paid a total sum of $13,903. To’ahu blamed delays on Covid-19. Later he claimed  the vehicle was stuck at a wharf, but if she paid a further deposit, she would get the upgraded version of that same vehicle. The deposit was paid but no upgraded vehicle arrived.  She did not receive any vehicle or get her money back.

In July 2020 Lavili Maka of Ma’ufanga, manager of the Fiji Airways office in Tonga, ordered a Toyota Prado and a Toyota Hiace from To’ahu.  The cost was TP$30,000 and eventually paid TP$12,400, without receiving the vehicles.

Then she saw another ad for a Toyota Hilux for TP$29,000. She paid To’ahu TP$20,000 and told him take the remaining TP$9,000 from the TP$12,400 she had deposited for the first two vehicles.

When the vehicles did not arrive she asked for money back. She received $1500, but never received the vehicle.

In September 2020 Melasisi Ta’ufo’ou ‘Isama’u of Ha’ateiho saw a Toyota Dyna truck for sale on Fobby’s Print Tonga’s Facebook page for TP$17,500. The advertisement claimed that while customers waited for the arrival of their vehicle, they would be provided with another for their use as they await their vehicle. Mr. ‘Isama’u was given a truck to use which the Defendant claimed he bought. ‘Isama’u ended up buying that vehicle for TP$4000 from the owners of the truck. He did not receive the vehicle for which he paid money to the defendant for. He did not want to sue To’ahu.

Heleni Toli, manager of Sunshine Rentals, a car rental company, was looking for a Toyota Hilux to buy as they were popular with Tongan visitors to the Kingdom. She saw an ad on Fobby’s Print Tonga’s Facebook page and contacted the page.

She was told the person responsible was in Japan, but that there was an agent at Fiji Airways and was provided with a phone number of the agent. Mrs. Toli contacted the number given and it was Mrs. Maka. She confirmed to Mrs. Toli that the company was not a scam.

Satisfied, Toli contacted the Facebook page and asked why the Toyota Hilux was so cheap. She was told the company was clearing out old stock. She was then sent an offer of another vehicle due for payment on the same date. That afternoon, a post on the page thanked companies and well-known persons for their business. She decided to pay for two more trucks and understood it would arrive in December, 2020. She paid a total of TP$116,000.

Further contact with the defendant was not possible and Fobby’s Print Tonga’s Facebook page shifted the blame to Japan. When Mrs. Toli contacted Japan, a Mr. Wahad spoke with her. From that communication, she realised the transfer slips of funds she was given by the defendant or his agents were fraudulent.

The sixth complainant, Lesieli Tu’ivai of Fua’amotu, contacted Fobby’s Print Tonga’s Facebook page in November 2020 about a Toyota Hilux they were advertising for TP$35,000.

To’ahu told her and her brother Sitiveni that the vehicle would arrive on the last week of December. Tu’ivai and her brother paid a total of TP$15,000. When the vehicle failed to arrive, she was told that the vehicle was in Britain and they were trying to engage another company to ship it to Japan.

Further calls went unanswered. She went to find the defendant at Niutoua, to be informed that he had been taken into custody.

The seventh complainant was Lu’isa Kolo of Pahu. In December 2020, she saw on the Fobby’s Print Tonga’s Facebook page a Nissan Murano for sale at TP$17,500 and contacted them immediately. She spoke with the defendant and was told to make the relevant payment at their agent, lawyer Siosifa Tu’utafaiva’s office to one, Siosi’ana Vakasiuola.

On January6,  2021, she went to Mr. Tu’utafaiva’s office where she was handed a contract from Fobby’s Print Tonga. She signed the contract with Siosi’ana Vakasiuola and paid TP$17,500 in cash to Ms. Vakasiuola. She was told the vehicle would arrive March 9, 2021.

When it failed to arrive, she was told the money had been sent and to be patient. Then the defendant told her that she was not to contact him until this proceeding was finalised. She did not get her vehicle or a refund of her money.

In April 2021 Prince Tu’ipelehake agreed to buy four boat engines from the defendant for TP$41,600. To’au asked him to deposit 30% of the price.

Prince Tu’ipelehake paid TP$12,480 to a Ramona ‘Otutoa who paid the defendant TP$9680 and put the rest towards the deposit for the engines. The engines failed to arrive and the complainant demanded his money back. The defendant paid $9800 back to Prince Tu’ipelehake.

In total, the defendant obtained a sum of $243,486 from which he re-imbursed $11,300. The balance of $232,186 remains outstanding.

Previous case

To’aho, 43, was a teacher from 2004 to 2007, before marrying and joining Digicel where he worked as a corporate case manager at Digicel for five years. In 2013, he started Super Cheap Tonga, a business that imported vehicles from Japan to sell locally. Like the present case, he required customers to pay the full price before the vehicle would arrive. Like the present case, customers never received their vehicles. That business went under. To pay off the debt, his wife moved to the US to find work. She never returned.

His family helped pay off his debts.

High risk

To’aho’s probation officer described him as a “very high risk” to the community. He was not a first-time offender and had pleaded not guilty.

He was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to seven years, with the last 12 months suspended for two years subject to the condition that he not commit any act punishable by imprisonment.

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