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Court unhappy with conflicting Immigration info about defendant

Immigration called him “illegal” — documents say otherwise
joy@samoanews.com

The wrong information presented by an Immigration Officer before the High Court did not sit well with the judges during the sentencing of a foreign national charged in connection with a knife stabbing incident. Sefo Lega, who has been custody since last year October, pled guilty to second degree assault.
 
The assault charge is a class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, and/ or a fine of $5,000. The sentencing was postponed from the week before, given that the High Court wanted clarification on the defendant’s immigration status, because the information given was conflicting.
 
The Immigration office had reported the defendant’s status was illegal, yet Lega’s attorney Assistant Public Defender Mike White presented the defendant’s immigration ID, showing him to be legally in the territory.
 
Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr pointed out to Immigration Officer Paelo Puni that if the court had not paid close attention to the Immigration report on the defendant, the court would have rendered a sentencing that jeopardized the defendant’s stay in the territory due to incorrect information provided by the Immigration Office on matters before the court.
 
According to the Immigration report, the defendant’s ID had expired last August and his sponsor was Salema Meafou. However the Assistant PD provided Lega’s ID, which will expire on August 14, 2014, and informed the court his client’s sponsor is Sauolevaveao Lega, the defendant’s mother.
 
Judge Mamea asked Immigration Officer as to why the difference of names for Lega’s sponsor and he responded this occurred from a “technical error” yet the accurate information is the defendant’s mother is the sponsor.
 
During the defendant’s mother’s testimony, she informed the court that she’s Lega’s mother and his sponsor. Judge Mamea asked the mother if she knew any person by the name of Meafou, and the woman replied no. The Judge further asked the immigration officer if he knew of Meafou and he also replied, no.
 
Immigration Officer Puni explained to the court that in July 2013 the defendant had applied to renew his ID.  It was renewed in August, 2013. Samoa News points out the defendant was arrested and charged in October, 2013.
 
During the sentence hearing two weeks ago, the defendant apologized for his actions and told the court he’s full of remorse. Sefo asked the court to release him from jail so he can care for his mother, as he was the only one working in his family prior to the incident. He also sought forgiveness from the victim, whom he had stabbed.
 
Assistant Public Defender Mike White noted the defendant has alcohol problems and recommended appropriate alcohol counseling. The prosecutor concurred with the defense attorney, noting the defendant does have an alcohol problem.
 
Last week, Richmond sentenced the defendant to five years in jail, however the sentence was suspended and he was placed on probation for five years on the condition that he serve 20 months in jail. Sefo was also fined $1,000 and ordered to remain a law abiding citizen, who must not consume alcohol, nor congregate with those who are under the influence. He must also attend alcohol counseling.
 
The defendant’s also to pay restitution of $413 for the victim’s medical bills and the court has allowed him to be on work release after serving six months, with the condition he’s gainfully employed.
 
According to the government’s case, on Oct. 13, 2013 police responded to a call and upon arriving at the scene in Malaeimi, they were informed by the victim that Lega, who was intoxicated, had slashed him three times using a pocket knife.
 
The victim, who was taken to the hospital, sustained three stitches on each shoulder and three stitches on his neck as a result of the incident. Court filings say that during interrogation the defendant stated “the victim tried to stop a fight between him and other people and that’s when he took out the knife and slashed the victim.”
 
BACKGROUND
 
Last year August, Chief Immigration officer Tamasa Dennis Lutu told Samoa News the immigration computer system is hackable, unreliable, unsecured and anyone can override, modify or alter the immigration files of foreigners in the system.  
 
He noted that any Immigration officer can change, revise or alter what is already in the Immigration system, including the computer system they are using, which makes it dangerous for the government, given that Immigration is the entrance door into the territory. It’s unclear if there has been a change in the Immigration system since last August.



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