Solofa defense petitions for lighter sentence, cites health
Defense attorney for Paul Solofa has asked the federal court in Washington D.C. to consider a sentence below the federal sentencing guidelines, citing among other things, that the defendant is facing a serious medical condition, a “Stage IV renal failure”, according to the defense statement filed yesterday.
A federal jury convicted Solofa, former manager of the Department of Education school lunch program, in January this year on one count each of witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Charges against the 50-year old defendant stem from his efforts to obstruct a federal grand jury and law enforcement investigation into a school bus spare parts bribery scheme between an employee of the DOE bus division and local vendor Pacific Products.
Solofa was head of the DOE business office several years ago when the bribery scheme occurred involving former DOE school bus division supervisor Gustav Nauer (who will be sentenced later this month after pleading guilty more than a year ago for his role in the scheme) and Oscar Mayer, owner of Pacific Products. Mayer has yet to be charged in this case.
For his conviction, Solofa faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the witness tampering charge and 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the obstruction of justice charge. However, final decision on sentencing rests with the presiding judge.
In its 16-page sentencing statement, Washington D.C. based Assistant Federal Public Defender Michelle Peterson said the probation officer has calculated an advisory guideline sentence of 41 to 51 months imprisonment.
Since his conviction, Solofa has been detained at the federal prison in Honolulu awaiting sentencing, now set for June 8. According to the defense, Solofa has agreed to waive his presence in person for his sentence hearing in Washington D.C. and has asked to participate via videoconference.
In support of the request for the court to impose a sentence below the advisory guidelines, “we note that Mr. Solofa has no criminal history, he assisted the government in its investigation of fraud in American Samoa, and he is suffering from health conditions that were exacerbated upon his incarceration in Honolulu.”
(The fraud investigation cited by the defense deals with DOE furniture purchased several years ago at the time Solofa was also head of the DOE business office).
“Additionally, the guidelines as calculated by the Probation Office overstate the need for incarceration,” the defense says. “There is no need to incapacitate Mr. Solofa to prevent him from committing further crimes in view of his low risk of recidivism.”
(Recidivism is measured by criminal acts that result in the rearrest, reconviction, or return to prison with or without a new sentence during a three-year period following the prisoner's release, according to the U.S. Justice Department website.)
Peterson also argued that the guideline range applicable in this case provides little useful advice as it was not developed based upon empirical data or national experience, and fails to satisfy the purposes of sentencing.
“Finally, because Mr. Solofa is not a citizen of the United States, he is likely to face harsher terms of incarceration than other defendants who have been convicted of the same offense,” he said.
The defense points out that Solofa is a “well-educated man” who is a citizen of Samoa and a resident of American Samoa but his presence in the U.S. was solely for the trial. Additionally, he is married and is the father of three minors and two adult children.
The court was reminded that the defendant’s wife was present during his trial and she “remains supportive of him but is very worried about his health condition while he is incarcerated.”
She is also struggling to keep the family afloat while he is unemployed and incarcerated, said Peterson.
According to the defense, Solofa’s family, like nearly all Samoan families, is an extended family or “Aiga” and as the head of his family, he has many obligations to his immediate family members as well as the other members of his “Aiga”.
“In addition to being a loving, dedicated father, he is active in his village and in his church,” Peterson points out.
“Mr. Solofa is in ill-health—even more so than when the original PSR (or Pre Sentence Report) was completed,” said Peterson, who points out that Jennifer Merkle, an attorney advisor at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu “has advised our office that, in addition to all of the medical conditions outlined in the PSR, Mr. Solofa is now suffering from Stage IV renal failure.”
“Apparently, the medicine he was prescribed by the BOP (federal Bureau of Prisons) caused problems exacerbating his gout,” said Peterson. “He has experienced considerable pain from the gout. The gout is exacerbated by sleeping on a small cot.”
“He has taken increased medication because of the pain and as a result, experienced a severe reaction which has harmed his kidneys,” the defense claimed. “As a result, these medicines were discontinued. He is currently taking Colchicine for his gout to alleviate the build-up of uric acid. He is being treated for kidney failure, a very serious, life-threatening condition.”
NATURE OF OFFENSE
“Because Solofa went to trial and thus will need to assess his options with appellate counsel after sentencing, we will not say much about the offenses charged,” said Peterson. “Mr. Solofa does not dispute, nor did he dispute at trial, that he said the words that are heard on the tapes.”
(Tape recording of conversations between Solofa and two cooperating witnesses for the government were presented at trial. The FBI directed the recordings, during its investigation.)
“However, he did not speak those words intending to obstruct justice or tamper with a witness. And it is important to note that the crime Mr. Solofa was convicted of was witness tampering and obstruction of justice, not bribery,” Peterson argued. “The guideline range for witness tampering and obstruction of justice would have been 15 to 21 months had the Probation Office not applied the cross reference to bribery.”
“A sentence below the guidelines would be sufficient to reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law, provide just punishment for the offense, and afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct,” she argued.
Samoa News will report in Monday’s edition on the specific points argued by the defense, who also believe that Solofa does not need to pay any restitution.