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Four defendants plead not guilty in Hawai’i meth case

A Samoan woman accused by federal agents of using her airline security credentials to bypass airport security in order to transport drug money to California has pled not guilty along with her three co-defendants at the federal court in Honolulu.

Sifatutupu Fuamatu, who worked as a ramp agent for Delta Air Lines at the Honolulu International Airport, along with co-defendants  Walter Dominguez, Larry Chung, Lloyd Talia, and Falefia Fuamatu were charged late last month under a federal criminal complaint.

Then on Apr. 4 a federal grand jury in Honolulu returned a seven-count indictment against the defendants, who appeared in federal court on Wednesday for arraignment and plea hearing, before U.S. District Court judge Richard L. Puglisi.

Except for Dominguez, whose arraignment and plea hearing is rescheduled for Apr. 18, the rest of the defendants all entered not guilty pleas, with trial set for Jun. 13, to be presided over by U.S. District Court Judge David Alan Ezra.

Samoa News understands the trial is expected to be continued either to later this year or next year, due to the complexity of the case; and that all parties will soon file motions to continue.

Federal court documents show that Falefia Fuamatu is the only defendant who has been granted bail, while the others remain in custody following a bail hearing last week. He has been released on a $50,000 unsecured bond and placed in the custody of a third party living in Pearl City, Hawai’i, according to court documents.

The court also set conditions of release, which includes the defendant not making any contact with co-defendants; however, contract is permitted with family members, but not to discuss the case. (The indictment and other court filings still do not indicate the relationship between Sifatutupu and Falefia.

The federal indictment — which incorporates details of the federal complaint against the defendants filed late last month — accuses the defendants of knowingly and intentionally conspiring to distribute, and to possess with intent to distribute about 390 pounds of methamphetamine between May 2011 and January 2012.

The single largest shipment of methamphetamine involved in this case was about 174 pounds of the drug, which was sent by Dominguez on May 28, 2011 from California to Chung in Honolulu, the indictment alleges.

Additionally, it was around Nov. 5, 2011 that Sifatutupu Fuamatu and Falefia Fuamatu flew to Los Angeles from Honolulu and allegedly delivered $554,000 in drug proceeds to Dominguez.

According to the federal complaint filed by federal agents, Sifatutupu Fuamatu used her airport security credentials to bypass the security baggage check to get the money to California. It also alleges that there was one incident in which Sifatutupu used $6,000 of drug proceeds to make her car payment.

It was in this federal complaint federal agents revealed that this drug case is linked to John Tai, who was arrested last fall at his home in California and extradited to Honolulu to face charges in another drug case involving his younger brothers — Kaisa and Louis — who were arrested in Pavaia’i last summer and taken to Honolulu.

The complaint states that a confidential source told federal agents about a “drug trafficking organization” headed by John Tai, and that Dominguez was Tai’s source of supply for crystal methamphetamine, the complaint alleges.

The latest court filing shows that John Tai has filed a motion to change his not guilty plea to a new plea, but full details were not yet available. He and his two brothers and their co-defendants are currently schedule for trial at the federal court in Honolulu on Sept. 4 this year.