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19-year old ringleader gets five years for burglary

A nineteen year old accused of leading three juveniles to break into an electronic store in Tafuna, where they made off with more than $10,000 worth of merchandise, was last week sentenced by the High Court to five years imprisonment as a condition of his 15 years probation.

Fotu Aokusitino was initially charged with one count each of burglary in the first degree; stealing; receiving stolen property; and property damage in the second degree. The government said in court documents that Aokusitino “induced, aided or encouraged” three juveniles to break into store in Tafuna, for the purpose of committing a crime.

Under a plea agreement, accepted by the court, Fotu  pled guilty to first degree burglary in which he admitted that in March this year, he encouraged or aided the juveniles to enter for the purpose of stealing merchandise.

Aokusitino opted to enter a plea agreement because the government has solid witnesses — the juveniles — prepared to testify against the defendant.

According to the plea agreement, the defendant understands that if his case does go to trial the three juveniles involved will testify against him that the defendant forced and induced the juveniles into breaking into the store to steal merchandise. Furthermore the juveniles will testify that they were threatened by the defendant not to tell anyone, or face the consequences.

Additionally, one juvenile will testify that this break in was planned by the defendant, who wanted specific items to be taken from the store such as a laptop computer and a camera. The juvenile will further testify that the defendant, following the break in, divided up the loot for each person to take.

During sentencing, the court didn’t impose a fine on Aokusitino but the judges advised the government that can file a civil case against the defendant to recover any costs lost due to the theft.

Prior to handing down sentence, Chief Justice Michael Kruse said that over the many years he has been on the bench, this is one of the most frequent types of crimes that come before the judicial branch, and it greatly affects business operations in the territory.

An impact on business due to these crimes can also affect the community as a whole because of the job opportunities these members of the private sector provide for the territory, he said.

Kruse recalled the break in and stealing of merchandise from Swiss Jewelers and finally the company went out of business, he said, due to the major losses they encountered. He said this type of criminal action not only affects businesses and employers but the local economy as well.

When given a chance to address the court, Aokusitino apologized for the crime, saying that this is not the first time he has appeared in court for similar crimes. He then apologized to his parents saying that his disobedience has resulted in his being put in jail. (The defendant has been in custody unable to post bail since his arrest in March).

Aokusitino’s attorney Assistant Public Defender Leslie Cardin requested probative sentence with an order for any program that the defendant is able to attend and complete in order to help him rehabilitate his life. She believes that Aokusitino can be rehabilitated with the right programs.

While the government is not completely opposed to a probative sentence, Assistant Attorney Mitzie Jessop Folau said the defendant should be given some jail time due to the severity of the crime.

Kruse asked Folau as to the last time she visited the Territorial Correctional Facility and she responded that it was about two months ago. Kruse said that every week staffers of the Probation office visit TCF and from these visits the judicial branch learns of problems at the facility, such as overcrowding.

Samoa News reporters Ausage Fausia and Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report.