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Court Report

reporters@samoanews.com

COUPLE CHARGED IN DRUG BUST APPEAR IN COURT TODAY

The Ili’ili couple arrested last week Wednesday after police confiscated baggies of methamphetamine from their home will make their initial appearances in the District Court today on drug charges. Initial information received by Samoa News last week noted that the Vice and Narcotics division with the Department of Public Safety had executed a search warrant on the defendant and his property.

Sam Tupuola is being held on bail of $100,000 and his wife's bail has been set at $75,000. Samoa News understands that the wife was arrested following a surprise raid of their Iliili residence, while Tupuola, a security guard at the LBJ hospital, was arrested at the parking lot of the hospital.

Police also searched Tupuola’s vehicle where drug paraphernalia was found. The Vice Detectives also confiscated items they believe were used to trade for the drugs, such as DVD players, VCR Video etc.

VATIA TUGAGA TO BE SENTENCED IN ASSAULT CASE ON YACHT

Vatia Tugaga, one of two defendants in the beating of a Caucasian man in his 70s on his yacht while he was sleeping, has entered into a plea agreement with the government. Tugaga was charged, together with Jason Muasau, who has already entered a guilty plea with his case pending in the High Court for sentencing.

Tugaga was initially charged with first-degree assault, first degree burglary, felonious restraint and resisting arrest. Tugaga has been in custody with a bail of $100,000 since November 2011. Tugaga pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and burglary first degree while the remaining charges were dismissed.

As part of the plea agreement, the government will not recommend a life sentence for the defendant, after his guilty plea was rendered for first degree assault, which carries a jail term from 10 to 30 years or life imprisonment.

Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond accepted the plea agreement. The defendant informed the court during his plea hearing that he was drinking beer with his friend Jason in Fagatogo, and the drinking continued at the Star Kist area. On their way home, while walking on the seawall, Jason Muasau slipped into the ocean.

Tugaga said they saw the yacht nearby, and Muasau entered first, while Tugaga followed behind him and they both assaulted the victim.

Muasau had pled guilty to first-degree assault and first degree burglary while the felonious restraint and resisting arrest charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

During the plea hearing for Muasau, he had told the court that the incident occurred on October 27, 2011 when he was drinking alcohol with Tugaga and they saw a yacht. Jason told the court that Tugaga insisted that they rob the yacht.

“I told Tugaga that if it’s an old man or old woman on the yacht I won’t participate”, Muasau told the court.

Muasau went on to say that when they got on the yacht, the victim was sleeping and Tugaga jumped on the victim and strangled him and tried to hold him down while the victim was calling out for help. Muasau told the court that he tried to look for something to tie the victim down, however police arrived and arrested them.

Court filings says while the defendants were on the yacht, police officers were heading to the scene in a marine patrol vessel after receiving a call from a neighbor. The defendants jumped off the yacht and swam away, however they were caught by police.

Sentencing for the pair is now scheduled for March 15, 2013. The defendants are both represented by the Public Defender’s office while prosecuting is Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop.

CHINESE MAN SENTENCED TO 20 MONTHS FOR ASSAULT IN 2011

A Chinese man was sentenced last week to 20 months in jail for second degree assault, but the court noted that if arrangements can be made to send him back to his home country, he will be released. Quin Sun, who was convicted of assaulting another Asian man with a machete in 2011, will be departing American Samoa today. Samoa News understands the defendant will be heading to Apia.

Sun was working at a vegetable farm with the victim in Futiga, when the incident occurred.

Sun pled guilty to second degree assault, and Public Defender Ruth Risch Fuatagavi, who represented the defendant, said Sun has been in jail for over a year and it has been difficult for him, given that the defendant does not understand English and is not able to communicate with the Corrections officers regarding any medical needs.

She also stated that he had problems with his cellmates. Fuatagavi informed the court that the local Chinese community is fundraising to get the Chinese man back home to China and asked that the court place her client on probation and order his departure back to China.

Richmond sentenced the defendant to five years in jail, however execution of sentence was suspended and the defendant placed on five years’ probation under certain conditions.

He was ordered to undergo 20 months in jail, and will be credited for the 14 months he already served. However, Richmond noted, his incarceration can be revised if arrangements are made to send Sun back to his home country. Richmond says once he departs he’s ordered to remain outside the territory throughout the period of his probation.

FORMER ASG EMPLOYEE REQUESTS CONTINUANCE IN ALLEGED FORGERY CASE

Private Attorney Matailupevao Leupolu Jr. has been retained by former government employee, Fiapapalagi Eteuati Letuli, who has been charged on allegations of stealing and forging government checks for her personal use.

Letuli is facing eight counts of stealing and eight counts of forgery on allegations that she forged government checks from the American Samoa Economic Stimulus Recovery office (ASESRO). During Letuli’s pre-trial conference before Chief Justice Michael Kruse, her attorney asked for a 30-day continuance noting that he was just retained, and he needs time to be familiarized with the case.

According to the government’s case, the investigation against Letuli was launched at the request of the ASESRO Director earlier this year, in light of allegations that the defendant had forged and cashed ASG payroll checks made out to another ASESRO employee, Gale Clarke, who was on leave without pay.

Court filings say that Letuli admitted she stole the money in order to pay loans, and church and family obligations.

The investigator also spoke to Clarke, who said she was on medical leave without pay, and she did not consent for the defendant to process any paperwork to receive payroll checks, nor did she give the defendant permission to sign her name to cash the checks.

The government claims there were a total of eight checks issued, beginning Jan. 14, 2011 through Aug. 5, 2011 which totaled $7,860.65.

Chief Justice Michael Kruse granted the request and re-scheduled another pre trial date for March 2013.



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