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Pase defense argues for sentence below guidelines

Says she did not deliberately set out to defraud the government
fili@samoanews.com

Defense attorney for Mine S. Pase has requested the federal court in Washington D.C. to consider a sentence below federal sentencing guidelines, arguing that she has been a law abiding citizen all her life and had immediately accepted responsibility for her action.

Pase, 63, pled guilty last November to one count of conspiracy to steal more than $325,000 in AmeriCorps grant funds, which were provided to the American Samoa Special Services Commission (ASSSC).

Pase, who will be sentenced June 19, served as executive director of ASSSC from March 2001 till October 2010.

In a 26-page sentencing memorandum filed yesterday in federal court, defense attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Michelle Peterson in Washington D.C., argued that the conspiracy charge carries no mandatory jail time, but a maximum period of five years imprisonment.

Peterson points out Pase was released on her own recognizance and was allowed to return to American Samoa pending sentencing. Additionally, she has been in complete compliance with her release conditions since that time.

Peterson said the defense requests the court impose a sentence below the advisory guidelines.

“In support of this request, we note that Ms. Pase has no criminal history, immediately accepted responsibility for what she had done at the time she was initially questioned and subsequently, agreed to assist the government in its investigation of fraud in American Samoa, and has been in complete compliance with her release conditions,” argued Peterson.

“Ms. Pase implores the Court to consider not just her criminal acts, but also her lack of any prior criminal history, her very early and complete acceptance of responsibility, her lifetime of selfless behavior and her genuine desire to give back to the community both with restitution and with community service,” the defense points out.

“Ms. Pase was a law-abiding citizen with no criminal history before committing this offense. She has always been hardworking, deeply involved in her community and church, and a dedicated parent and grandparent,” said Peterson. “Ms. Pase takes responsibility for her wrongdoing and is sincerely remorseful for her conduct. She fully acknowledges the misuse of grant funds that were under her control.”

“She is deeply sorry for her actions and how they reflect not only on herself but upon her family and American Samoa in general,” said Peterson.

Additionally, the guidelines as calculated by the Probation Office overstate the need for incarceration and there is no need to incapacitate Ms. Pase to prevent her from committing further crimes in view of her negligible risk of recidivism as well as the impossibility of committing this offense again given the termination of her employment.

According to the defense, 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.

PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS

Peterson informed the court that Pase is a well-educated woman who was born in American Samoa and she was raised in the traditional Samoan culture — as part of a very large, extended family.

“The male members of the family grew crops to feed the family, all of whom resided together in a traditional Samoan home,” said Peterson. “She remained in American Samoa until 1966 when she came to the United States to attend college.”

Pase returned to the territory in 1973 and has resided there ever since, said Peterson, adding that Pase married in 1976 but was widowed in 2000 and she is the mother of three adult children, two of whom live with her in American Samoa.

Additionally, she is the sole provider for her family after her husband’s passing and any absence from that family will be hard for Ms. Pase, but even harder for the children, grandchildren, and foster children.

“Ms. Pase is well-educated, having obtained a nursing degree, a theology degree, and a masters in public administration. In addition to caring for her children, grandchildren, and foster children, Ms. Pase has consistently worked and provided services to her community,” said Peterson.

NATURE AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE OFFENSE

Peterson noted that Pase does not dispute that the offense in this case is serious.

“However, immediately upon being confronted by the agents in this case, Ms. Pase accepted responsibility for her actions,” said Peterson. “She agreed to cooperate in whatever way necessary.”

“Prior to her plea, she debriefed with the government. While her cooperation did not lead to the prosecution of others, it was just as important to the administration of justice,” said the defense. “Her truthful, candid explanation of what happened contributed to the government’s decision not to prosecute others. It cannot be said that the decision to not prosecute is any less important than the decision to prosecute.”

“In this case, a driving force in determining the guideline range is the amount of loss. However, it is important to note that much of that loss was not to the gain of Ms. Pase,” said Peterson. “Much of the loss is the result of misunderstanding the rules as it relates to how the grant funds could be expended.”

“While there is no doubt that Ms. Pase was responsible for her actions and she fully accepts that responsibility, she did not deliberately set out to defraud the government,” said Peterson.

Additionally, recent judicial thought is that loss is not a good measure of the seriousness of the offense because it is “a relatively weak indicator of … moral seriousness ... or the need for deterrence,” the defense argued.

“While we do not contend that this was a one-time event, her offense is completely uncharacteristic when viewed in the context of her entire productive adult life. This Court can grant a variance based on the aberrant nature of her conduct,” said the defense.

PUNISHMENT AND RETRIBUTION

Peterson informs the court that prosecution of this offense “has had a tremendous impact on Ms. Pase and her family, regardless of whether any period of incarceration is imposed.”

“This conviction has cost her a job that she had held for a decade. She has suffered much shame as the news media in American Samoa reported extensively on the case. She has likely lost the ability to do that which she loves — to serve on the boards of other organizations that she supports,” the defense added.

In tomorrow’s edition of Samoa News there will be a look at other defense arguments, and includes the 20 letters of support for Pase sent locally and from off-island to the federal court.



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