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Samoan woman pleads guilty to distributing cocaine in Hawaii

fili@samoanews.com

A Samoan woman, accused by federal prosecutors of distributing cocaine to Samoan drug dealers in Hawaii, has pled guilty at federal court in Honolulu in connection with a drug case involving a Samoan male who was sentenced to jail several months ago.

Sulu Lefiti, aka ‘Pinky’ was charged in September 2010 by a federal grand jury in Honolulu with two counts “as an aider and abettor, of knowingly and intentionally distributing in excess of 28 grams a mixture or substance which contains cocaine base.”

Lefiti, however, was not arrested until sometime in March this year in California. She was returned to Honolulu where she entered a not guilty plea and trial was set for Aug. 21 this year. She remained out on bail under conditions set by the court, over the objections of prosecutors, who alleged the defendant was a safety risk to the community and was allegedly involved in past drug distribution incidents.

Lefiti’s charges and arrest were linked to the federal drug case of Joshua Lauama Jr., who pled guilty this year and is now serving time in jail. Lauama was scheduled to be the government’s star witness in Lefiti’s trial.

In preparation for trial, federal prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Muehleck filed a “notice of intent” with the court and the defense that the government plans to offer as evidence similar acts allegedly committed by Lefiti in the past.

In 2008 the defendant was present “in the Chinatown area of Honolulu and announced her ability to provide any type of drugs to customers,” Muehleck alleges in the notice filed July 25. 

He further alleges the “defendant routinely distributed cocaine to several Samoan drug dealers in the Chinatown area and to dealers in Kuhio Park Terrace.” (Kuhio Park Terrace is a public housing facility in Honolulu and home to many Samoan families).

“The defendant was selling mostly cocaine, both powder and ‘crack’. The defendant sold cocaine ranging from ounces of ‘crack’ to kilogram quantities of powder cocaine,” prosecution further alleges.

Muehleck also claimed in the notice that Lefiti sold kilogram quantities of powder cocaine from her residence in Waianae on Oahu in December 2009 for $26,000 per kilogram and Lefiti allegedly was supplied by her boyfriend/ husband —who lives in California.

More recently, prosecutors say, Lefiti was stopped in Lynwood, Calif., by Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriffs and she was in possession of approximately $60,000 in her purse. Muehleck said evidence will show the defendant was assisting her boyfriend Kelvin Burton in California and others in the distribution of cocaine in the Lynwood area.

Prosecutors say a heat sealer box and packaging materials were seized in her hotel room in the area and two bundles of cocaine were seized in the room of her companions who traveled with the defendant from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

At the time she was stopped, the defendant told the deputies she was unemployed, but claimed the currency found in her bag was hers, according to the prosecutor.

On Aug. 3, defense attorney Patrick A. Swillinger filed an opposition motion saying this government evidence should not be introduced at all, because it has nothing to do with the current charges. The defense argued that Lefiti is charged with knowingly aiding Lauama in selling cocaine to an informant.

“Whether she sold kilograms in Waianae or got arrested in California has no relevance to her knowledge on the days in question, nor is it probative of whether she knowingly assisted Mr. Lauama on those days,” said Swillinger.

Additionally, any evidence that takes the focus of the jury away from the question of what actually happened at the time of the alleged offenses and puts it on the character of the individual is not permitted under federal rules of evidence, “since impermissible inferences may be made.”

He further argued that the federal circuit court has long held that under federal rules, evidence of other crimes or wrongs is inadmissible where “its only relevance is to show criminal disposition.”

However, last Friday, just under two weeks before her scheduled trial, Lefiti appeared before U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright and pled guilty to one count of aiding and abetting in the distribution of 28 grams or more of a... substance which is cocaine. In exchange for the plea, the other charge was dismissed.

Under the plea agreement, Lefiti admitted that around February of 2010 a  cooperating individual for the Honolulu Police Department Crime Reduction Unit had purchased 45.9 grams of “crack cocaine” for $3,000 from Lauama at the parking lot of a store at Chinatown, Honolulu. Prior to the purchase, Lefiti had provided the 45.9 grams of cocaine to Lauama to sell.

A month later, the same cooperating individual spent $1,500 to purchase 23.4 grams of cocaine from Lauama, who received it from Lefiti to sell, according to the plea agreement. Lefiti will be sentenced in November.



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