Kruse: "You wonder if theft is not a sin in Samoa anymore"
Convicted felons working for the American Samoa Government was an issue raised before the Court when Chief Justice Michael Kruse handed down sentencing for a teacher who misused PTA (Parent Teacher Association) funding while serving as a secretary at Samoana High School.
Lizza Gaotala of Fagasa was initially charged with stealing and embezzlement; however, in a plea agreement with the government last month, Gaotala pled guilty to stealing while the remaining count was dismissed. The defendant apologized to the court for her actions. With tears, she also apologized to Samoana High School’s PTA, her village of Fagasa, and her mother.
“I seek leniency from your honor, standing before your honors is not pleasant — it's ugly, given that my village and my family has been denigrated for my crime, I seek your compassion for the sake of my family and my four children,” pleaded Gaotala to the court.
Her mother also took the stand and sought the court's lenience in handing down her sentence.
Assistant Public Defender Mike White informed the court that Gaotala is remorseful of her actions and she has accepted full responsibility. He also pleaded with the court to consider that the defendant has four minor children and restitution of $2,200 has already been paid. Assistant AG Camille Philippe asked the court to impose jail time for the defendant, as the three days she served in jail is not sufficient, considering the crime she committed.
The Chief Justice referred to the probation report and said the total amount missing from Samoana’s PTA is $14,000
White responded that Gaotala has paid the amount she’s accountable for. When Kruse asked if there were other thieves who helped themselves to Samoana's PTA money, the prosecutor responded affirmatively.
“This parade of people coming in on theft charges… over the years, you wonder if theft is not a sin in Samoa anymore,” said Kruse.
The Chief Justice asked the prosecutor what the government is doing about the issue. “This is essentially school kids' money, money given to the school from the students' parents.”
The prosecutor explained that it’s unclear who “stole” the $14,000 however, they have received the police report and due to evidentiary reasons the government cannot prosecute the other cases, just this one.
Kruse pointed out the defendant “helped herself to PTA fees," and "it's ironic that she's concerned” about her children “yet she didn't show concern for other kids' fees she helped herself to.”
The Chief Justice sentenced Gaotala to seven years in jail; however, the sentence is suspended and she’s placed on probation for seven years under certain conditions. She’s to serve six months in jail, pay a fine of $3,000, remain a law-abiding citizen, and visit the probation office upon release.
Kruse told the defense attorney to “impress” on his client two things: “The fine better be seriously addressed; and also, there is a probation review one year from today. If the fine is not addressed, impress upon her that six months minus seven years,” is what she'll serve.
Kruse said it's unclear if “there's morality in theft anymore.”
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