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Latu found guilty, illegal immigration status focus of High Court sentencing

“You dropped the ball the last time… but not this time around,” said Chief Justice Michael Kruse to Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Hyde, during the sentencing of a man, who has been in the territory illegally for more than 10 years.


Nesiasi Latu, a Tongan national, was convicted of stealing a purse containing $15,000.


The government charged him with stealing, a class C felony punishable by up to seven years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, a fine equal to twice the amount gained from the commission of said crime up to $20,000 — or both jail and fine, to which he pled guilty.


During the last hearing, he apologized to the government, the court, his family and the owner of the purse for his actions, noting his remorse. During the last sentencing hearing, it was revealed that the defendant came to the territory when he was eight years old, on a 30-day permit and has lived here since.


However, the family, with which the defendant was staying, applied for the defendant’s residency in the territory, and the immigration board recently approved the application.


Kruse pointed out that the defendant entered a guilty plea on Jan. 9, 2013 and the letter from Immigration Board was only issued March 1, 2013, yet local law — ASCA section 41.0615 (8) — states that “except as otherwise provided in this title, the following classes of persons not permanent residents are excluded from admission into American Samoa and are subject to deportation: convicted felons.”


He noted that maybe the Immigration Board was not aware that the defendant is a convicted felon, but the court is aware. Kruse directed the defense and prosecutor to make submissions to the immigration statute he just quoted.


During the sentencing hearing held last Friday, Kruse pointed out the defendant came into the territory in 1998 with his parents, who had since left for Utah while he stayed behind with family members.


“Interestingly, he managed to graduate from high school not withstanding his illegal status in the territory. This was done because the defendant was living with the vice principal,” said Kruse. He further noted the defendant was convicted of underage drinking in 2009 in the District Court, where it was determined that his status in the territory was illegal. The government made an offer to dismiss the charges against the defendant, while he departs the territory as part of their plea agreement, in which the government agreed.


The defendant received his Tongan passport and “obviously he did not leave the territory,” said the Chief Justice.


Kruse noted that the court has taken into account the defendant’s early guilty plea, rather than putting the government through an expensive jury trial. The defendant was then sentenced to five years in jail, however execution of sentencing was suspended and Latu is placed on probation of five years under certain conditions.


The defendant is ordered to serve 20 months in jail, without any release whatsoever, however upon the completion of one year in jail, the defendant must leave the territory and remain outside the territory for the period of his probation.


“You dropped the ball the last time… but not this time around,” said Kruse to the government.


According to the government’s case, on Dec. 25, 2010, police received a call about a woman whose purse was stolen. The victim told the police that when she arrived at home she got into an argument with a friend and then three Samoan boys showed up at her front door to check if everything was alright.


After they left, the victim said she went to lock her car only to find that the glove compartment of the vehicle was emptied out and her purse, which contained $15,000, was nowhere to be found. Police upon arriving at the scene found one of the three Samoan men at the victim’s house.


The juvenile told the police that he, the defendant and another juvenile saw the victim and her husband arguing with another man, so they went to see if the couple needed help. The juvenile said afterwards Latu asked if they wanted to go to Carl's Jr, and upon leaving, the defendant fetched a bag from under a mango tree near the area. The juvenile told the police the defendant gave them money.


Court filings state that the police apprehended the second juvenile who was with the defendant. Police retrieved an envelope from the juvenile which contained $9.00 The second juvenile corroborated the information which the first juvenile told police. The police were able to apprehend the defendant the following day.


Court records state Latu told the police he did not know how much money he took and couldn’t recall how much he spent. The defendant turned over $384.75 to the police and when the purse was located, it had $167.37 inside. The police also patted down the defendant and found $1,093.00 on him. Police contacted the defendant’s friends whom he said he gave money to, and police seized from the defendant’s friends $200.


The total of the cash collected was $1854.12, which was documented for evidence and released to the victim.