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FINAL: Paul Solofa sentenced to 35 months in prison

Former Department of Education chief financial officer Paul Solofa was sentenced yesterday to 35 months imprisonment, following his conviction in January this year, for his efforts to obstruct a federal grand jury and law enforcement investigation into a bribery scheme  involving school bus spare parts at the DOE school bus division.

Fifty-year old Solofa was found guilty on one count each, of witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

After his January conviction, prosecutors said Solofa faced a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine on the witness tampering charge and 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine on the obstruction of justice charge.

The Probation Office report, filed in court last month, calculated sentencing at between 41 to 51 months in jail which was supported by prosecutors. Solofa's defense asked for a lesser sentence citing among other things that Solofa is facing “Stage IV renal failure”, a serious medical condition.

The charges against Solofa stem from his time as head the DOE finance division. He was later moved to another DOE division. When he was arrested in the territory in late  2010, Solofa was head of the school lunch program.

Solofa has been detained since early February at the federal detention center in Honolulu awaiting sentencing. His defense attorney said in court documents, Solofa was to participate via video conference from Honolulu during the sentencing phase.

Responding to Samoa News questions, Justice Department spokesperson Alisa Finelli confirmed that Solofa participated via video conference and that “no fine or restitution” was ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton, who presided over the sentencing hearing.

Finelli offered “no comments” on other Samoa News questions such as the Justice Department’s reaction to the jail term imposed by the court since prosecutors wanted a higher one.

Solofa’s attorney, Washington D.C. based Assistant Federal Public Defender Michelle Peterson, didn’t immediately reply to Samoa News' e-mailed questions seeking comments and a reaction to the sentence.

In its sentencing memorandum last Friday, federal prosecutors said Solofa “initiated a brazen fraud and bribery scheme that ultimately cost the Department of Education and the schools of American Samoa nearly $300,000.”

When the FBI and grand jury began to investigate his corrupt scheme, the defendant told a key witness to lie and to destroy records to conceal what they had done, the government said.

The key witness cited by prosecutors is Pacific Products owner Oscar Mayer, who was identified in other court documents filed earlier in this case.

“To this date, he (Solofa) refuses to acknowledge that he did anything wrong,” said prosecutors.

Solofa's co-conspirator in the bribery scheme, Gustav Nauer, 47, a former supervisor of the DOE bus division, was sentenced to 25 months in jail on Monday, this week, after he pled guilty in January of last year to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.

It remains unclear whether the U.S. Justice Department will file any charges against Mayer.