Deputy House Speaker I’aulualo pleads no contest
Former Director of Human Social Services and current Deputy House Speaker Talia Fa’afetai I’aulualo entered into a plea agreement with the Independent Prosecutor on Thursday morning. Presiding over the plea hearing was Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond, Associate Judges Mamea Sala Jr and Muasau Tasina Tofili.
Talia is represented by Sharron Rancourt while Independent Prosecutor Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei prosecuted.
Talia was initially charged with three counts of embezzlement a class C felony, punishable up to seven years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000 or a fine twice the amount gained from commission of up to $20,000 or both the fine and jail time.
According to the notice of plea agreement filed with the High Court, the IP moved to amend the embezzlement charge to a new charge of “Misuse of Official Information”- a class A misdemeanor, punishable to not more than one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The defendant entered a plea of no contest to the amended count.
Plea of no contest is a plea where the defendant neither admits nor disputes a charge, serving as an alternative to pleading guilty or not guilty. A no-contest plea, while not technically a guilty plea, has the same immediate effect as a guilty plea.
According to the plea agreement, in support of Talia’s plea of no contest, the government proffers the facts that on or about Sept. 6, 2008, “Talia Faafetai Iaulualo, then Director of Department of Human Social Services with the American Samoa Government in contemplation of official action by himself and in reliance on information to which he had access in his official capacity as Director to wit the government’s payroll information and which had not been made public, knowingly aided Aualuma Pese a terminally ill and former employee of DHSS to acquire a pecuniary interest in government funds as salary in the amount of $1,279.19 to which the defendant believed she was not entitled to and which the government still maintains she was not entitled to.
“Upon court’s acceptance of defendant’s plea the government agrees to dismiss counts two and three (embezzlement) of the information,” says the notice of plea.
“The government does not intend to seek any term of imprisonment for the defendant however, the parties are free to make their own arguments regarding other sentencing recommendations and the defendant also understand and accepts he will not be allowed to withdraw his plea of no contest should the court decree a different sentence than that recommended by counsel.”
Associate Justice Richmond accepted the plea agreement and scheduled sentencing for Apr. 14, 2013.
Uiagalelei responding to Samoa News queries on why the felony count was reduced to a misdemeanor, stated that while Mr. I’aulualo was charged with three counts of embezzlement, there were other considerations which led to the reduction of the charges to the sole misdemeanor charge.
“Those considerations included the fact that he gained no benefit from his actions and the funds that were taken were eventually paid back in full by the individual who received them.
“But the most influential factor is that this matter has been pending for four years which greatly affected the recollection of some of the witnesses the Government intended to call for its case. Under the circumstances, the plea agreement accepted by the Court is in the best interest of the People.
“Mr. I’aulualo was not acquitted for his role in what happened four years ago and I believe that the charge reflected in the plea agreement and which he has pled to, is appropriate considering all the facts and the current status of this case,” said the Independent Prosecutor.
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