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CJ doesn’t believe gov’t’s claim of missing immigration files

Chief Justice Michael Kruse  [SN file photo]
Translated by Samoa News staff

Chief Justice Michael Kruse says he is shocked with claims by the government that they can’t locate the file of an inmate and therefore it is missing from the Immigration Office. He pointed out that Immigration’s responsibilities include making sure that all records of foreigners who are authorized to work and reside in American Samoa are kept.

Sentencing for inmate, Va’afuti Tevita was continued from last month to last Friday in the High Court, to allow assistant attorney general Gerald Murphy to find the defendant’s immigration file, which should indicate proof that the Immigration Board granted permission for Tevita to reside and work in the territory.

During the sentencing hearing, however, Murphy informed the court that the Immigration Office has searched its records but cannot locate Tevita’s file. He said the file is missing and by this time, Samoa News observed that Kruse did not appear pleased or happy with that statement from the government.

Kruse explained that the court wanted to review the file to see if there was a decision by the Immigration Board allowing Tevita to work in the territory. With his voice raised a bit, Kruse said the important question the court is trying to find the answer to, is if approval was granted for the defendant to live and work here or is the defendant here illegally.

In a very calm manner, and without rushing to answer the chief justice, Murphy explained that when Tevita was taken into custody his immigration ID was valid, but three days after the arrest, it expired and was not renewed as he was in jail.

But Kruse continued, saying that at times the government responds that the file of a person is lost, but the court suspects that people at the Immigration Office don’t want to reveal what’s in the files.

It appears the government is taking this matter lightly, but not the court, which has serious concerns on such issues, with many foreigners residing in the territory without Immigration Board approval, said Kruse, adding that what’s even more serious is when a foreigner commits a crime, including crimes where a minor child is the victim.

Last year, the government accused 27-year old Tevita of having sexual contact with a 15-year old girl.

Kruse said he doesn’t believe the government’s statement that the file is missing or lost. He says the other issue that comes to mind is that it’s doubtful that there was ever an immigration file for Tevita.

Towards the end of CJ’s comments, he put the government’s attorney on notice telling Murphy that any time the court orders the Immigration Office to provide a file for a foreigner, the court does not want a piece of paper, but the entire file which includes decisions by the immigration board allowing a person to reside and work in American Samoa.

Tevita was initially charged with one count of statutory rape — a felony crime punishable by not less than 5 year and not more than 15 years imprisonment — and one count of sexual abuse — a felony punishable by not more than 5 years imprisonment.

However, under a plea agreement, the government amended the statutory rape down to sexual assault, a felony punishable by not more than 7 years imprisonment.

In pleading guilty to the amended charge, the defendant admitted that sometime last October he had sexual contact with a minor. He apologies to the court and the victim’s family and had asked them for forgiveness.

Tevita, who was revealed in court as a native of Samoa, sought leniency in sentencing. He says the 7 months he has been in jail since his arrest have been a lesson and acknowledged what he did was wrong.

Public Defender Douglas Fiaui also sought leniency so his client could return home to Samoa. He explained that the main reason for the defendant being in the territory was to find a job to take care of his family and therefore the defendant worked as an aiga bus driver, when he was charged.

Because the defendant’s immigration status is no longer valid, the government requested that Tevita be deported to his country.

Kruse told the defendant that his crime is very serious, especially when he was initially charge with statutory rape, which is a very serious felony count that involves a minor child. However, the statutory rape charge is amended down and the court has accepted the plea agreement.

Tevita was then sentenced to 7 years probation under several conditions, including that he serve 28 months in jail, and pay a fine of $150. Upon release from jail, he is to depart the territory and remain outside of American Samoa during the probation period.

And if the defendant cannot pay the fine, Kruse directed the government to fine Tevita’s