Pinay in textbook scam wanted in the US for swindling
By ELLEN TORDESILLAS, VERA Files
The woman who shook the nation by delivering P3 million in bribes to Malacañang 11 years ago is wanted in the United States for swindling and is believed to be in hiding in the Philippines.
Former textbook agent Mary Ann T. Maslog, who tried bribing officials of the Department of Budget and Management in 1999 so that her firm could wangle a P200 million textbook contract, is now Mary Ann Smith and married to an American who allegedly became her partner in crime.
Court records in Orange County in Florida show that Maslog is wanted for theft and scheme to defraud. She is facing charges of grand theft amounting to more than $100,000 and scheme to defraud in the amount of $50,000 which are classified as criminal felonies punishable with imprisonment.
Maslog also has been charged with civil traffic infraction for improper backing.
A source who participated in the investigation, and who asked to be identified only as James Katarungan, told VERA Files that Maslog operates with her husband, Michael Lee Smith, who hails from Virginia.
Katarungan said Maslog has a bag of tricks and the more successful one is where she takes a job as a salesperson with a reputable company, normally in radio or print advertising.
After a few months, her husband gets an office in or near the building where she works, identifying himself as a sort of a career guidance counselor. The two then promise their victims jobs at the company where Maslog works, although she is in no position to do so.
Maslog would even show victims around her company’s office, explain how things work, and even introduce them to her co-workers who welcome these visitors thinking they were clients.
The couple would then require a deposit from their victims ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, supposedly to cover training in another city, either Houston or Washington, D.C., for six months. Once they get the money, they close shop and skip town.
“She’s done this scam in Virginia and in Florida,” Katarungan said.
Maslog was also into credit card fraud. “While working in sales, she took credit card numbers from paying customers and stole their identities. She defrauded one man in Orange County Florida for over $100,000 by having credit cards made in his name and sent to her. This particular victim owned a gas station and has since gone out of business and was forced into bankruptcy,” Katarungan said.
A number of people the Smiths had conned have gone to court. Maslog was charged with grant theft and scheme to defraud on Feb. 26, 2007 and was ordered arrested Dec. 18 that year.
Arraigned in open court while in jail on Jan. 8, 2008, Maslog posted a $5,000 bail bond for the grand theft charge and $1,500 for the scheme to defraud.
Court records showed she missed the hearing of her cases last Feb. 22 and that her lawyer, David Faulkner, had withdrawn his services.
Maslog first gained notoriety in the Philippines when she was summoned in 1999 by the Senate Blue Ribbon and Education, Arts and Culture Committees which uncovered a web of corruption in the purchase of the textbooks for public schools.
She appeared in those hearings after having been investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation for trying to deliver a bagful of cash to the DBM in January 1999.
The NBI report on the incident stated: “On 19 January 1999 at about 12:00 noon in the afternoon, a mysterious lady later identified as certain Mary Ann Maslog arrived at the Gate No. 7, parking area, Malacanang and gave to one Celeste Payot, a department Legislative Liaison specialist of DBM, one (1) box placed inside a yellow plastic bag with instruction that the same be delivered to Secretary Benjamin Diokno.”
A member of Diokno’s staff was surprised to find money in bundles amounting to P3 million. Diokno sought the assistance of the NBI to investigate what he suspected as a bribe attempt.
The NBI report quoted Maslog as having said, “The three million pesos (P3M)) was really intended for Deputy Tingting de la Serna and consultant Ricardo Fulgencio of the Office of the President, Malacanang as bribe money.”
Vicente “Tingting” de la Serna, a politician from Cebu, was deputy of then Executive Ronaldo Zamora.
An investigative report showed that at least 65 percent of the budget for textbooks went to bribes given at every stage of the contract back then—from clinching the deal with education officials to the release of the payment at the budget office.
Maslog is now a fugitive from U.S. and Philippine laws. A warrant of arrest was issued in November 2008 by Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Edilberto Sandoval.
The warrant has never been served. It was issued in connection with a P24 million textbook scam in which Maslog, as agent of Esteem Enterprises in February 1998, allegedly conspired with budget and education officials in Eastern Visayas ( Region 8 ) to collect money from the government using falsified Sub-Allotment Release orders (SARO). SAROs are documents required by the DBM for the release of payments to contractors.
Almost a year after she helped execute the P24 million scam in Leyte, Maslog figured in the DBM bribe attempt, one of the first major anomalies under the administration of deposed President Joseph Estrada.
The joint Senate committees investigating the bribe attempt cleared De la Serna and Fulgencio for “insufficiency of evidence” but recommended charging and prosecuting a number of persons, among them Maslog.
The Senate found her liable for false testimony; corruption of public officials punishable under the Revised Penal Code; violation of the anti-graft law; violation of Presidential Decree no. 46, which makes it punishable for private persons to give gifts to government officials and employees on any occasion; falsification of public document; and tax evasion.
More than 10 years since the case first came to light, the Sandiganbayan has only made her accountable for the P24 million scam and not for the bungled bribe attempt.
Maslog’s story could have been every barrio lass’ dream of poor-girl-makes-good. Growing up in the poor town of Talisayan in Misamis Oriental, Mary Ann Tupa made up for her material deprivations with her gift of gab and persuasive skills, which are assets in sales and marketing.
In her blog, she wrote:“June 1992, I worked as a Medical Representative for Dispo Philippines. I was assigned in Davao City. Six months after, I was promoted as the Assistant District Sales Manager for Butuan City.”
A friend of her sister described Maslog as having “a strong personality.”
In her narration of why her marriage to former Talisayan Mayor Rommel Maslog failed, Maslog showed she could defy moral standards. “One day, I woke up and realized, I was in love with one of my sales representatives, which was a No-No to the company,” she wrote.
Rommel Maslog is now vice mayor of Talisayan, while his current wife, Catherine Ifurung, is mayor.
The Senate investigation into the P3 million bribery attempt revealed that her former husband accompanied Maslog when she went to Malacanang. He has also been charged before the Sandiganbayan for other cases unrelated to his ex-wife’s.
Maslog has reportedly returned to Talisayan, a small town with a household population of a little over 4,000. But sources there say she has not been seen in town. Some say they heard she had gone to Canada but is back in the Philippines.
A resident of Talisayan said two of her children with Rommel were brought to Talisayan recently but the youngest remained in Manila.
Katarungan said Maslog and her current husband Michael Lee, who is also facing charges in the state of Virginia, are on the run. “They purchase and use disposable (pay as you go) cell phones and change them out every few weeks.’
In her blog entry dated Jan. 18, 2009, Maslog gave a glimpse of her life: “We often stay in relationships that aren’t healthy for us. Sometimes emotionally abusive or physically abusive. Many women live every day in unhealthy relationships because of many reasons.”
Reposted From Ellen Tordesillas Of Vera Files