Whaling panel's former director gets prison time

The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission's former director was sentenced to more than three years in prison and ordered to pay back more than $393,000 to the organization, which works to preserve subsistence hunting of bowhead whales for Alaska Eskimos.

Maggie Ahmaogak, 62, was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Anchorage for embezzlement, The Anchorage Daily News reported. She pleaded guilty in May to theft, money laundering and misusing money that belonged to the whaling commission.

Ahmaogak was the commission's executive director from 1990 until her firing in 2007. Prosecutors said she stole more than $420,000. Her lawyer said the amount is closer to $91,000.

Prosecutors said Ahmaogak stole the money through a variety of methods for the benefit of herself and her family, including her husband, five-time North Slope Borough Mayor George Ahmaogak.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Steward said Ahmaogak and her husband gambled the money away and bought things like a Hummer SUV, snowmachines and an expensive refrigerator.

Over a four-day sentencing hearing, Steward presented checks, credit card statements and other documents from a total of more than 100,000 pages of evidence collected by federal investigators. She said Ahmaogak stole a total of more than $420,000, some of it taxpayer dollars from government sources like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ahmaogak's attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, said thousands of dollars went to whaling commissioners and some of the money paid for things that furthered the commission's purpose.

But Steward said Ahmaogak pilfered the organization's accounts by writing checks to herself, approving her own bonuses and a retroactive pay raise, paying for meals and expensive personal items on the commission's credit card, making a wire transfer directly from a commission account to her own, and filling out time sheets with overtime to which she was not entitled.

It was "straight-up theft" from an organization that Ahmaogak turned into "her own private cash cow," even while the commission struggled financially in its last few years under Ahmaogak's leadership, Steward said.

Ahmaogak apologized to the court. She told U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason that she had abused the trust of the people the commission serves. She also reminded the court of the work she had done for her people to put "food on their tables and at the same time protecting their ability to harvest bowhead whales."

Ahmaogak said she was saddened and embarrassed.

"I hope the organization is able to overcome any damage I have done," she said.


11/11/2016 - 9:23pm