Filipina Fugitive Stalls Extradiction

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — A Filipino national set for extradition on December 15 for allegedly embezzling close to $2 million from one of the largest banks in the Philippines filed an appeal, effectively stalling the process.

Girlie Jimenez Lingad, 36, is accused of allegedly stealing more than P75 million from her former employer, the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) in the Philippines.

Lingad has been living in San Diego for the past three years. She fled to the US in 2004 before UCPB authorities could file criminal charges against her.

US Marshalls arrested Lingad late last year. She has since been detained in a Federal prison in San Diego.

According to those working closely with the case, Lingad filed an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco last Wednesday to stop the extradition. She will continue to sit in a federal prison in San Diego until the appeal is resolved.

“She has filed an appeal and will not be brought back to the Philippines until her case is heard sometime in April 2008,” said Los Angeles Attorney Morel Callueng, who was hired by the UCPB.

“I don’t know why she continues to delay the process,” Callueng added. “It’s going to end the same.”

Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Special Investigator Jeralyn Jalagat along with her partner Raul Tepace were sent by the NBI and the Department of Justice in the Philippines to Los Angeles last week to escort Lingad back to Manila to face charges.

Upon her arrival to the Philippines, Lingad would have been charged with falsification of documents and more than 25 counts of qualified theft. If convicted, she faces 20 to 40 years for each count.

“It’s not worth it,” said Jalagat. “When you commit a crime you’ll eventually be caught. Even if you planned an elaborate scheme like she did, you won’t get away with it. She thought maybe that if she went to the US she won’t get caught.”

“We are not saying that she stole the money,” added Callueng. “We are saying that it’s very suspicious that she fled to the US before an internal audit uncovered that money [that] was stolen from the bank.”

Lingad, originally from Olongapo City, has been on the run since 2004. She fled with her family to the US three days after she quit her job as a marketing assistant at UCPB’s Olongapo branch. Lingad had been working at UCPB since 1994. Court records revealed Lingad lived briefly in the Eagle Rock area in Los Angeles before settling in San Diego.

Lingad’s position as a marketing assistant enabled her to directly handle the client’s money, said UCPB Vice President of Legal Division Attorney Delfin Catapang. He was also in the US to oversee the extradition.

Police and bank records revealed that the alleged scheme began in 2001 or 2002. Lingad purportedly devised a scheme to siphon money from the bank by either underreporting or not reporting the amount of money she deposited into a client’s bank account.

When a client came to the bank to deposit money into their account, Lingad allegedly pocketed some or all of the money and created a bogus receipt similar to an official bank note to show the client that the money was deposited into his/her account.

When a client asked for a withdrawal, Lingad allegedly took money out of another client’s account to fund their request and forged her manager’s signature.

The scheme went on for three years from 2002 to 2004, according to Callueng.

Callueng said that Lingad did not target a specific clientele.

“She [allegedly] stole P50,000 to P10 million at a time from blue collar workers, business people, and regular hard working people,” said Callueng. “She took advantage of all the clients that were assigned to her [by the bank].”

“What she [Lingad] did was use her position as a bank officer to steal and manipulate the documents to commit the fraud or scheme for her own gain,” added Jalagat. “She made it appear that the transactions were authentic, showing [false] entries in the books or certificates to these clients.”

It wasn’t until Lingad abruptly quit her job on April 17, 2004 that UCPB officials became suspicious. An internal audit later revealed money was stolen from the bank. Bank officers also found destroyed computer records and data. Clients, previously assigned to Lingad, began to complain to other bank officials when the bank showed no official records of their past deposits.

Bank investigators believe she acted alone.

“As far as we know, she acted alone,” said Catapang. “Others were disciplined for their negligence but there was no intention on their part [for this to happen].”

A few months after she fled to the US on April 20, Lingad married a US citizen and later three homes under her mother’s name. NBI officers said they could prove that the mother had no financial wherewithal to pay for the homes.

“It is clear from this action that she was really planning to leave the [Philippines] country and evade prosecution,” added Jalagat.

Catapang did not disclose the number of people Lingad allegedly stole from. He said that the bank has since reimbursed the losses of those clients.

“But we still don’t know if we can recoup all the money that we’ve lost,” said Catapang.

“If there is anything good that has come out of this – the bank has improved their internal system to prevent this from ever happening again.”

Catapang said that he’s glad that there is an existing Philippines and US extradition treaty to bring Lingad back to face charges. However, he expressed disappointment that she filed the appeal.

“I’m going home empty handed,” he said.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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