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Feds claim Solofa acted entirely without remorse

Territory plagued with corruption and other criminal activity
fili@samoanews.com

Federal prosecutors are seeking “firm sentencing” by the federal court against Paul Solofa, who “initiated a brazen fraud and bribery scheme” at the Education Department in American Samoa, a U.S. territory “plagued with corruption,” according to the U.S. Justice Department’s sentencing statement filed last Friday.

Last Thursday, Solofa’s defense filed its sentencing statement, asking the court to consider a sentence below the federal guidelines, citing among other things, that the defendant is facing a serious medical condition, “Stage IV renal failure”.

(See today’s issue for story of other points of argument by Solofa’s defense)

The following day, the prosecution filed a reply.

MEMORANDUM BY GOVERNMENT

As “chief financial officer” of the local DOE, Solofa “initiated a brazen fraud and bribery scheme that ultimately cost the Department of Education and the schools of American Samoa nearly $300,000,” said prosecutors in their sentencing statement.,

When the FBI and grand jury began to investigate his corrupt scheme, the defendant told a key witness to lie and to destroy records in order to conceal what they had done, the government said.

“To this date, he refuses to acknowledge that he did anything wrong,” said prosecutors, who agreed with the Probation Office’s calculations under federal sentencing guidelines for a sentence range of 41 to 51 months in prison.

“...the government recommends a sentence of imprisonment within that range,” said prosecutors.

The government went on to say that “American Samoa is a territory of the United States that has been plagued with corruption and other serious crime. A firm sentence against this high-level Samoan official will make it clear that the laws of the United States apply fully in American Samoa, and help ensure the enforcement of Federal law in the territory.”

ACCEPTS NO RESPONSIBILITY

According to the government, the defendant — as head of the business office — “committed serious crimes over the course of several years” and he “orchestrated and profited from a large-scale bribery and fraud scheme that went undetected for years and cost the schools in American Samoa hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Prosecutors pointed out that evidence at trial in January this year established that Solofa initiated the scheme in 2003, when he met with Gustav Nauer, the DOE bus division supervisor, and Oscar Mayer, the head of Pacific Products, Inc. — the local vendor “who purported to supply bus parts to the schools.”

Solofa then proposed a scheme to make “fast money” from the ordering of school bus parts, including orders for phantom school bus parts that would never be delivered and orders for parts and services at inflated prices, the statement says.

“In exchange for this lucrative business, Mayer kicked back the profits to Nauer and Solofa in the form of regular cash payments,” said prosecutors, who noted that the defendant had ensured that there were accounts and funds available at DOE to “pay for the phantom parts and the inflated invoices”.

Prosecutors claimed the scheme continued for more than three years, and went undetected until the FBI began an investigation in early 2007. “At that point, Mayer admitted his role and agreed to cooperate,” prosecutors revealed.

When the FBI and grand jury began their investigation into the bus parts scheme, the defendant could have chosen to accept responsibility for his crimes and admit what he had done.

“Instead, he compounded his crimes by tampering with a witness and obstructing justice,” said prosecutors and cited two tape recorded meetings with Mayer in 2009. In one meeting the defendant made incriminating statements regarding the bus parts scheme and instructed Mayer what to say and do in order to avoid detection of their scheme by the FBI and the grand jury.

In the second meeting, Solofa directed Mayer to “burn” any item he did not want to provide to the grand jury. (Prosecutors provided in their statement, transcripts of the two meetings, which were used during trial.)

Later in the investigation, federal agents interviewed Solofa and he falsely denied any participation in the corruption scheme or the obstruction of justice. But when confronted with the recordings, he made several damning admissions about his participation in both crimes.

“Despite the overwhelming evidence of his participation in the bribery scheme, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice, to this date defendant has not accepted any responsibility for his crimes,” said prosecutors.

GOVERNMENT’S ARGUMENT FOR “HEARTLAND” OF SENTENCES

The defense had argued that the sentencing 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.

Prosecutors say Sentencing Guidelines represent a “heartland” for a particular criminal offense and imposing a sentence within this heartland promotes fairness by helping to ensure that individuals who engage in similar conduct are treated similarly in the federal criminal justice system.

According to the government, provisions of the guideline allow cross-referencing for cases involving witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Additionally, the offense level should be lower for a defendant who obstructs an investigation into a misdemeanor theft of government property than it should be for a defendant who obstructs an investigation into a long-running bribery scheme involving a high-level government official, and that is so even if the offender who engages in obstruction of justice had no role at all in the underlying crimes.

In Solofa’s case, “the defendant was a central player in the underlying crime” and the cross-reference provision  in sentencing guidelines ensures that the severity of the underlying crimes will be taken into account in setting the offense level for obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors agreed with the Probation Office that the sentencing range for the defendant is 41-51 months in prison and would fall within the “heartland” of sentences imposed for Solofa’s offense.

“Obstruction of justice and witness tampering are crimes that strike at the heart of our system of justice, and the defendant committed both offenses in order to cover up his own serious criminal conduct,” said prosecutors, who recommended imprisonment.

“What is more, the defendant committed his crimes from a position of power, trust, and privilege. He was well educated, and held a high-level, relatively well-paid position with the Department of Education in American Samoa,” prosecutors argued.

“Despite his privileged status, he chose to cash in on his official position with the Department of Education and pocket tens of thousands of dollars from the schools that he was entrusted to serve, and then cover it up,” said prosecutors. “The characteristics of the defendant and the nature of his crimes call for a term of imprisonment within the applicable range.”

Prosecutors also say that American Samoa is far from the mainland and the “citizens are entitled to know that Federal laws are in place to protect them and their institutions, and that those laws will be enforced by the criminal justice system of the United States.”

“A sentence of imprisonment for the defendant’s offenses will promote respect for the law, and assure Samoans that the laws of the United States apply fully in American Samoa, and that this kind of corrupt and obstructive conduct by public officials in their territory will not be tolerated,” they said.

“A firm sentence for this crime is particularly important for deterrence. The United States has a strong interest in rooting out entrenched corruption and other criminal activity in American Samoa, and the effort to do so will be stymied unless potential witnesses and subjects understand that lying, witness tampering, and obstruction of Federal investigations will result in stiff punishment,” it says.

“...Solofa ...acted entirely without remorse. He has refused to accept any responsibility for his criminal conduct, and the sentence imposed by the Court should convey to him the seriousness of his crimes,” they say.



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