The Samoa Seduction by Alan L. Moss by Alan L. Moss - Read Online

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The Samoa Seduction - Alan L. Moss

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Love

PROLOGUE

AWAKENING

May 17, 2004

Beach Haven, Long Beach Island, N.J.

If the ambulance arrived ten minutes later, Michael would have died. No one knew who made the nine-one-one call. Their best guess was a maid happened into his hotel room during the attack, panicked, and called for help from a gas station pay phone a few miles away. Whoever made the call was credited with saving Michael’s life.

In spite of a battery of tests, they weren’t sure what happened. A stroke that damaged parts of his brain remained their best guess.

Michael couldn’t walk unassisted or communicate well. He received a disability retirement from the federal government. Then, he and Karen, his wife of twenty-five years, moved into a two-story cottage one block from the beach on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. She hoped the sun and salt air of the Jersey Shore would provide good therapy.

Most days, Karen pushed Michael’s all-terrain wheelchair up the Maryland Avenue ramp to the beach and down to the water’s edge. Michael watched children playing and thought of happier times when his family vacationed there. He wondered if Karen knew of his disinterest in therapy, in getting better.

He took a chance, played outside the rules, and paid the price. Left a defeated man, he didn’t care to fight any more battles.

Some days he thought of Stephanie and wondered if she played a part in his downfall. That last night at the resort in Tucson remained a blur. In any case, Michael believed he was dealt the hand he deserved.

Karen saw the sadness in Michael’s eyes and mourned the loss of his defiant spirit. Yet, suspecting foul play, she feared the day when he would will himself to recover and seek retribution.

***

Michael Bloom’s rebirth began when Karen rejected the doctors' prescribed regimen. She cancelled his medical appointments and set a new course, determined to treat him as a man who needed life’s stimulation, not large doses of physical therapy and sympathy. If she had to, she would bully him into making the effort she knew he could.

Instead of pushing him to the ocean in the wheelchair, she forced him to trek through the sand only assisted by his cane.

Look, lover, I don’t care if it takes you all day, and I don’t care if you have an audience of a thousand beach bums all feeling sorry for you. Just get your ass in gear and get to the water before the sun goes down.

His strength and coordination improved. He could navigate the sand and reach the water without attracting too much attention. At the water’s edge, she would tease him until he waded out into the waves, buoyed by the salt water, remembering the fun they used to have when the kids were little.

She drove him to Philadelphia for a Phillies game, to the Camden waterfront to the aquarium and then a concert, and to Lakehurst, New Jersey to see where the Hindenburg blew up with thousands standing breathless below. Her training as a psychologist, her intimate knowledge of the man she loved, and her instincts were bringing him back.

***

This day she drove him to Atlantic City to walk the boards and explore the new outlet shops in town. Sitting on a boardwalk bench, looking at the spring crowds, Michael instructed Karen to go off on her own and buy something extravagant.

Look, you’ve been terrific. I almost feel like myself again. Let me sit here and watch the people go by and you do some serious shopping. Then, I’ll take you out to lunch.

It was the first time in three years Karen saw him take some initiative. Tears welled in her eyes and she kissed him seductively on the lips.

Welcome back, my sweet. I’ll see you in about an hour.

The ocean breeze filled Michael’s lungs with optimism. Perhaps, his life wasn’t over.

Michael sat on the boardwalk bench watching children clamor for a piece of saltwater taffy, a handful of caramel popcorn, or a chance to ride the coaster on Steel Pier. The world around him seemed friendly and familiar. He could cope with life on the Jersey Shore.

He watched the crowds move up the boardwalk, pass before him, and disappear. Michael focused on individuals who caught his interest and he speculated about their stories – a family enjoying the ocean air, teenagers looking for summer dates, a gambler taking a break from a bad day at the tables.

A jitney rolled in front of Michael’s bench, blocking his view of the latest subject, no doubt a dancer at one of the casino nightclubs.

Stop, Mommy, shouted a child within the rolling car pushed by a scruffy-looking man. Stop, Mommy, my ball!

Michael looked ahead of the jitney and saw a red beach ball floating with the breeze. It landed against the metal railing protecting strollers from falling to the beach below.

Sir, could you hold up for a minute while I get my son’s ball? asked a lady inside the jitney.

Michael could see the back of a young mother leave the car. The wind jerked the ball ahead and the woman lunged forward with the skill of a professional athlete, grabbing the ball before it could escape.

As she bent down to secure her target, a gold Hawaiian fishhook on a chain around her neck left her blouse. She looked back, returned the pendant against her skin, and climbed inside the jitney with her prize.

Michael froze as Stephanie’s presence invaded his consciousness and destroyed his demeanor. The blood drained from his head and his stomach fought to hold its contents. He lunged to the railing and lost control, vomit splattering below staining the white sand. The foul smell filled his nostrils and sent pedestrians far away.

After three years, she was in Atlantic City, still wearing that gold trinket next to her heart. Michael fought off his shock and made his way to a restroom. Relieved that his clothes weren’t soiled, he washed out his mouth with cool water. He ducked into a casino gift shop, purchased some gum, and chewed it on his way back to the boardwalk.

Waiting for Karen, he sat on another bench, trying to regain his composure. Wild thoughts flooded his mind. Was Stephanie looking for him? Did she live down the shore? Was he hallucinating? It made no sense!

RETRIBUTION

May 20, 2004 – June 17, 2004

CHAPTER 1

RESURGENCE

May 20, 2004

Beach Haven, Long Beach Island, N.J.

Another warm spring day offered the promise of summer on the Jersey Shore. Michael awoke to seagulls arguing over the slim pickings available until the renters arrived.

Karen lay next to him in the fetal position, her back turned to him. Michael put his hand under her nightgown and pulled her closer. He nuzzled against her neck and kissed her lightly.

Now that’s what I call a friendly alarm. Does this mean you’re ready to get frisky? Karen whispered, rolling onto her back.

Michael gazed at this woman he loved for so long. The lines were softer and her blond hair a little less thick but she was still an attractive lady. An ocean breeze ruffled their white linen curtains and filled the room with cool salt air. Karen kissed Michael’s neck, an instant turn-on in days past.

Losing his thoughts in her passion, he moved into position and looked into her light blue eyes. Not knowing his own capabilities, he proceeded, delighting both of them with a new dawn.

An hour later, with Karen back asleep, Michael rose, showered and dressed. He would make them a good breakfast and propose they walk on the beach. Then, he would tell her what he was going to do.

***

It had been three years since Michael left for Tucson and the American Economic Association meeting where he fell ill. Two weeks before those sessions, he was in American Samoa, assigned by the U.S. Department of Labor to coordinate minimum wage hearings and ensure that a designated Committee follow the law and Regulations in determining a minimum wage update.

Had he survived the Tucson trip unscathed and seen the new Samoan minimum wage published, he would have released information that documented the fraud and abuse that maintained poverty wages there. As the U.S. Labor Department’s officer responsible, he wasn’t going to let politics as usual continue to devastate workers in the small American Territory.

Now, the shock of seeing Stephanie again got Michael thinking in a sinister way. He remembered her in his hotel room in Tucson. He recalled how they embraced, how she cried, and how he tried to comfort her.

Michael could see the hotel suite in his mind. They had walked out to the patio and sat at a small table. They looked at the sun setting behind the desert’s Ventana Trail. He popped the cork from a bottle of champagne she brought and toasted to a better life. Michael remembered asking Stephanie why she wasn’t drinking, but he never heard a response. A black curtain fell over his life; the Michael of old was gone.

***

For the first time this Ph. D. economist was putting two and two together. In Samoa, he fell faint after drinking Ava and Stephanie was there, leading him into her bed. In Tucson, he drank Champagne from a bottle she provided. Then, he passed out and suffered possible brain damage. Perhaps, there was more to this woman than he could have imagined.

What was the motive and who was in it with her?

The Territory’s largest employer, a tuna cannery, openly opposed increases in the minimum wage to minimize their labor costs, but such firms wouldn’t drug or murder a government official over his efforts to raise wages. Shortcuts with the books, not paying time and a half for overtime, sneaking work off the clock, using political threats to coerce committees — those were the games played by money-grubbing corporate executives and their attorneys.

Sure, the Samoan Government opposed his efforts, but, why would they use such extreme measures? Admin-istrations in American Samoa hardly lived or died by minimum wage battles. No, there had to be more to it.

Then, Michael remembered the words of Sammy Finn, Samoa’s most admired bone carver and jewelry designer.

"I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but from what I’ve been told, you’ve done an amazing amount of work to get the people down here a decent wage. If you fail, don’t blame yourself. There are forces at play which have nothing to do with you or the economy of American Samoa. There’s no way you can fight that kind of power.

"Know too what most Samoans know. Samoa is kind to those who have learned the lesson of not caring, and hard on those who have failed to learn it."

Michael had written off the jeweler’s comments to a kind man giving him an out, he shouldn’t take the blame for failing to raise Samoa’s wages. Rather, he should blame it on Samoa, on a world beyond his control.

Now Michael reconsidered his conclusion. What if Sammy’s words had real meaning? What if there were powerful forces at play, forces that had nothing to do with minimum wages, but everything to do with unknown men and schemes beyond his knowledge and influence?

Was warm, sexy, athletic Stephanie their agent? Was Michael the perfect patsy, a middle-aged man having trouble with his marriage, thousands of miles from home, facing the rabid opposition of a billion-dollar global corporation and its million-dollar attorneys? The answers were obvious.

***

Soon after they arrived at Long Beach Island Karen set up their aging computer in the corner of the beach house dining room. Michael had ignored it. He hoped he would never again touch the instrument he depended on for his work, but now he would wait until Karen went out so he could use the Internet to put meat on the bones of his suspicions.

With Karen shopping, Michael walked into the dining room, sat down at his computer, and turned it on, like a kid sneaking a cigarette with no one home.

The tower hummed. For the first time in years he gazed at his entryway to the Net. He typed Stephanie Palaie Moelai into the computer’s search engine. After clicking on her name, he stared in disbelief at the Portland Times article.

Attorney Marries Samoan Official

Paul Pecura, a prominent Portland attorney, has married Stephanie Palaie Moelai, former Director of the Visitors Information Bureau of American Samoa. The two were married by Rev. Gregory Gross at Saint Mark’s Church in Portland. In attendance were the bride’s three children from a previous marriage. The couple met while Mr. Pecura served the U.S. Government, chairing a Special Industry Committee in American Samoa. They will establish their residence in Nedonna Beach, Oregon.

The article was dated February the twenty-fourth, 2002, just eight months after Tucson. Michael concluded that Stephanie and Pecura had been working together all along. Her flirting, gentle touch, and desperation were just part of a game. As Michael suspected from the beginning, Pecura’s neutrality during the hearings was a cover to disguise his real purpose, to keep Samoa’s wages down.

Michael typed Paul Pecura into the search site. Clicking on his name, another newspaper article from the Portland Times appeared.

Pecura Elected in Close Vote

Paul Pecura, the long-time Portland attorney, won the race for our U.S. House seat in Tuesday’s vote. For Pecura, the third try proved to be the charm, winning as a Republican in traditionally strong Democratic precincts.

Pecura thanked his wife and children for their support and said he would do all he could to vigorously represent the fine people of the Portland area.

Experts credited what seemed to be unlimited personal wealth that propelled him to his first victory. In his concession speech, his opponent, John Fitzpatrick, made a backhanded statement regarding Pecura’s resources.

"I congratulate Mr. Pecura on his win and his ability to generate substantial funding from a legal practice no one knew was that prosperous."

Pecura’s wife, Stephanie, said she and the children would stay in their Nedonna Beach home and see Pecura mostly on weekends and holidays. In the meantime, the Pecuras will be taking a two-week vacation on St. Barts.

Michael didn’t know how the dollars were generated but he knew the payoff must have been huge. A successful Congressional race and a vacation on an Island reserved for billionaires and movie stars required big bucks.

Pecura’s exceptional payday must have been related to the hearings in Samoa. Once Michael figured out the linkage, he would get even. They put him out of the game for three years. Now, it was time to let them know he was still kicking and they were not safe.

***

Karen woke again, this time to the sizzle of bacon, the smell of freshly ground coffee, and the clank of Michael rummaging around the kitchen. She showered quickly and put on shorts and a Jersey Shore sweatshirt.

Hungry from their early-morning lovemaking and the ocean air, they ate with gusto and headed down to the shoreline where the firm sand posed little problem for Michael and his walking stick. Feeling almost whole again, Michael let Karen know what was on his mind.

Honey, I need to get into the office files we brought with us. Before Tucson I prepared packages for the Inspector General, the GAO, and the Senate Labor Committee documenting the underhanded methods used to keep Samoans in poverty. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t send the material now. I can explain the delay and let them know that the rates continue to be the result of a grievous inequity.

They walked along the shore, waves breaking onto the beach the only sound intruding on their thoughts. Finally, Karen stopped, held Michael’s arm, and looked into his dark blue eyes. They shined with the initiative she hadn’t seen for a long time.

"You know, Michael, you spent more than thirty years fighting those kinds of battles, and I love you for that. It’s not all that common that a Georgetown Ph. D. dedicates his entire career to government service and working men and women, but this is a new phase of our life. The kids are grown and we need to focus on getting you completely well. Then, I want us to travel and have some fun.

I loved our life before, but we always put things off, squeezing the budget for the kids’ music camp, college, and a wedding. There was always something. Now, it’s our turn to relax and enjoy ourselves. After a few years of that life, if you want to do some volunteer work, fine, but honey, let’s leave the past in the past.

Karen let go of Michael’s arm and they resumed their walk. She was amazed at how his dark brown hair turned pure white and how his need for the walking stick made him look older than his fifty-nine years.

A few minutes later, as they continued to walk, Michael responded.

I understand what you’re saying and I agree with you. This will not be the beginning of a commitment. I just don’t want to let it ride because of my health. According to the Wage-Hour web site, the wage rates in Samoa have continued to fall relative to prices and, given the current administration, I’m sure no one is on the case. All I want to do is fulfill my promise from 2001 and let the chips fall where they may. If they want to question me, okay, but that will be the extent of it.

Not wanting to pressure Michael in the midst of his promising recovery, Karen conceded, but her instincts told her this would be trouble.

Far down the beach, the couple saw an injured seagull trying to make its way back into the water. As the waves came to shore and pushed it toward dry sand, the bird fought again and again to enter the safety of the sea.

Not able to witness the bird’s distress any longer, they turned and retreated back to the beach house.

CHAPTER 2

ALARM

May 25, 2004

Washington, D.C.

Howard Berger returned to his desk with the usual, a blueberry muffin and decaf coffee. He was a man with a mission. In the federal bureaucracy for twenty-five years, he had no intention of leaving civil service and giving up the pension that would be his in five more.

He was hired under the wire, right before Ronald Reagan became President and began cutting the federal workforce. After two years as a manpower analyst for the U.S. Employment Service, he was moved to the Department of Labor’s Inspector General’s Office to investigate fraud and abuse.

At first, it seemed an exciting position. A flurry of activity found a number of instances where incompetence and crookedness were so obvious it was difficult to believe. Large contracts were awarded with no competi-tion, or on the basis of political connections. Contract money was laundered through cooperating state labor agencies.

The era of easy discovery proved short lived. The federal bureaucracy cleaned up its act in response to Congressional mandates, wild press reports of corruption, and the IG’s aggressiveness. Reform became a matter of bureaucratic survival.

Since the end of the early days, Berger and his compatriots spent endless hours auditing contracts and programs with little payoff. However, the lure of finding the big one, landing an interview on 60 Minutes, and testifying before Congress kept them looking. In any case, they believed without the threat of their presence, things would return to the days of uncompetitive contracts and ineffective administration.

***

Yo, Berg, snapped his boss, walking to Berger’s desk carrying a package logged in by the unit’s secretary late the previous day.

Here’s one for you. This character’s been retired for three years and now he’s decided to blow the whistle on the process used to determine the minimum wage for workers on American Samoa. I’m sure it’ll be a blockbuster.

The supervisor dropped the file on Berger’s desk, smiling as he walked away without saying another word. Berger finished his muffin, picked up the file, and began reading. Before long he concluded it was a serious matter.

The package contained a copy of a tax certificate that prejudiced the hearings by threatening to deny sixty million dollars in advance taxes to the Samoan govern-ment if the minimum wage rate was raised by more than two percent. A minority report written by a Samoan member of the Special Industry Committee designated to determine the minimum wage documented how another member was coerced into changing his vote away from higher wages. It also described how the Chairman improperly deep-sixed a Committee motion for significantly increased wages in favor of his own, more limited proposal. A letter written to the Secretary by the Committee member representing organized labor backed up that report.

A copy of a newspaper article published during the hearings also described how the Samoan Government had bounced a number of payroll checks, highlighting its need for the millions in advance taxes to be provided by the territory’s tuna industry if the increase in the minimum wage didn’t exceed two percent. Another article written six months later documented a huge annual surplus recorded by the Samoan Government.

The letter transmitting these materials ended with a paragraph that startled the hard-nosed bureaucrat.

"As I mentioned earlier, I was a career federal employee for more than thirty years. During that time, I worked for two agencies within the Department of Labor, and I worked on mobility assignments with a local government and in the U.S. Senate. I have seen much and I can tell you there had to be more to this than the greed of the tuna conglomerate and the complicity of the Samoan Government. If you choose to investigate, I suggest you subpoena the financial records of all those involved, especially the Chairman of the Committee (now Congressman Paul Pecura) and policy-making officials within the Samoan Government.

"I would be happy to discuss these matters with you at your earliest convenience and hope you will pursue this injustice with vigor."

Berger had a friend at the Justice Department who dealt with Samoa on several occasions. He told Berger the Territory was a rat hole of corruption. In fact, he remembered efforts planned to deny grants to the Samoan Government unless rigorous fiscal and managerial controls were established, but every time such moves were tried, the Territory’s Governor and its non-voting U.S. Congressman cried colonialism and racism, and somehow they were given another chance.

Berger figured this case would be different. Admin-istering the minimum wage hearings was the responsi-bility of the Secretary of Labor under the Fair Labor Standards Act. While the Governor of Samoa nominated some of the members of the Committee that determined the rates, the process was not his. While the Samoan Government and some of the Committee members may have played a role in corrupting the process, guarding against such fraud and abuse remained the responsibility of the Secretary.

For the next couple of days, Berger put together an internal proposal to pursue the matter. Then, the day before he was to meet with his supervisor on the subject, he received a copy of a letter to the Labor Secretary from the Chairman of the Senate Labor Committee. The Senator expressed concern over the issues revealed by Dr. Bloom and indicated if the I.G. was not able to pursue these matters satisfactorily, the Senator would propose Congressional hearings.

To Berger, that made it a lock — the proposed investigation would proceed. Three days later, Berger was given the formal go-ahead. He notified the Office of the Secretary and the Assistant Secretary for Labor Standards in writing. Then, he called his contact at the Wage-Hour Division to set up the initial meeting.

To some, news of the coming investigation would sound a terrifying alarm.

CHAPTER 3

NOT TO WORRY

May 28, 2004

Pago Pago, American Samoa

Just as Galeai Matautu served as the Chief of Staff and confidant of Governor Tavale Monia, if the next election went as expected, Joseph Schmuckler would become Chief of Staff and confidant to Governor Matautu. In American Samoa, loyal soldiers rode up the ladder with their captains.

Schmuckler didn’t know everything about his benefactor and he didn’t want to know. What he did know was soon he would be working for the most powerful man in Samoa. Based on the latest polls, Matautu had a thirty-point lead over the opposition, a Pago Pago banker with the personality of an accountant and a platform that promised little for the average Samoan.

After the November election, Schmuckler and Matautu would set the course for the Territory. Anyone who wanted to do business in Samoa would have to go through the Governor. To do that, the first step would be to appeal to Joseph Schmuckler. Undoubtedly, the charge for this service would provide untold power and wealth. That would make him a rich and admired man.

It was seven-thirty in the evening and Schmuckler had just returned to his office from a meeting with the government’s budget director. The telephone rang and his secretary picked up. Then, she buzzed him.

Sir, Robert Owen, the attorney who represents Filet of the Ocean, is on the line. Do you want to take the call or should I tell him you’ll call back tomorrow?

No, put him through, Schmuckler answered.

Schmuckler popped the top of a soda he got from the machine down the hall and greeted his friend with a question.

How’s the tuna business? he asked, not expecting a serious reply.

Well, I’ll tell you, Owen responded, if the press doesn’t stop harping on mercury in tuna, you and I are going to be the only two left eating the stuff and we can turn the Samoan cannery into indoor tennis courts.

Always the optimist, Schmuckler joked, taking a swig of his drink. Was there a reason for this call?

"Look, Joe, you didn’t hear this from me but yesterday I got a call from Greg O’Brien, the Department of Labor’s White House liaison. He tells me the Inspector General for the Department of Labor, the General Accounting Office, and a Senate Labor Committee are going to investigate the Samoan minimum wage process in general and the 2001 hearings in particular.

Apparently, that goddamned economist Bloom recovered enough from whatever was bugging him to get staff in the Senate, GAO, and I.G. hot on the issue. I’m not sure what there is to do about it, but I’d suggest we get our heads together and come up with consistent explanations concerning the tax certificate and related issues.

That’s fine, Schmuckler answered, unruffled. I wouldn’t worry about it. The Department of Labor knew all about the tax certificate at the hearings and did nothing then or later. Let me inform Gale and we’ll get back to you in a day or so.

Unsatisfied but content he did his duty, Owen signed off.

Okay, Joe, we’ll be looking forward to your call, and say hello to the candidate for us.

***

The 2001 hearings had been a landmark for Robert Owen. After the Department of Labor’s Samoa Economic Report was released, all observers believed modest wage increases in Samoa would end. The case for significantly higher rates seemed airtight.

However, Owen organized a counteroffensive rallying government and business, and captured the eventual cooperation of the Committee’s Chairman. This success catapulted Owen into a managing partner position at Jones, Margolin, and Sciarotta, bringing millions of dollars in additional business to the firm and his personal bank account.

What Owen didn’t know was that, although important, his efforts didn’t carry the day. In fact, if Michael Bloom hadn’t suddenly taken ill in Tucson, the Labor Secretary would have declared the hearings null and void due to the improper influence of the tax certificate and the biased behavior of the Chairman, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Committee member representing the Association of Tuna Producers.

Inexplicably, Bloom’s illness took him out of the picture. After a week or two, his threat to document wrongdoing was dismissed. The rates were published and the tuna cannery remained grateful to its attorneys and