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CJ loses patience with Immigration Office’s ‘old stories’

Chief Justice Michael Kruse [SN file photo]
“Someone will go to jail or I will hold the Immigration Office in contempt!”

The High Court is running out of patience with the government, specifically the Immigration Office, for providing “conflicting reports and information” to the court pertaining to the case of an over-stayer, who is serving a straight sentence at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF).

As a result, Chief Justice Michael Kruse has given Chief Immigration Officer, Peseta Dennis Fuimaono and the government attorney two (2) weeks, to bring to the Court the file that contains the original form for the defendant Joeita Fa’aaliga’s 30-day permit application back in 2012. If not, “someone will go to jail or I will hold all of the Immigration Office in contempt!”

Fa’aaliga’s Deposition Hearing is re-scheduled for Feb. 15 at 9:00 a.m., after the court was unsatisfied with the answers the government attorney and their only witness, Peseta provided to the court during last week’s hearing. The High Court subpoenaed Peseta and the Attorney General, Talauega Eleasalo Ale to appear, but only Peseta turned up in court, where he was ordered by Kruse to be sworn in to testify.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Morris is prosecuting the case while Public Defender Douglas Fiaui is representing the defendant.

Fa’aaliga appeared before the High Court last Friday for a Deposition Hearing, pursuant to an order to show cause issued by the Probation Officer, in regards, to his two most recent criminal cases that came before the court last year. Both are cases that happened while the defendant is serving time in the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF).

The defendant, an over-stayer from Samoa, who entered the territory on a 30-day visitor’s permit, is currently serving a 12-year straight sentence at TCF. If the court revokes his probation, he’s looking at serving a total of 34 years behind bars.

In recap, Kruse said that on June 21, 2013, Fa’aaliga was convicted of first degree burglary and second-degree burglary — both felonies, and he was ordered by the court to serve a 40-month detention, as a condition of a 7-year probation sentence.

While serving his detention, the government later discovered evidence of a prior burglary involving the defendant, resulting in subsequently being charged on March 08, 2014.

For this second case, Fa’aaliga was convicted of felony stealing, and was ordered to serve 28 months, as a condition of a 7-year probated sentence. The 28 months was to be served consecutively with his 40-month sentence.

And, then in 2016, Fa’aaliga was charged in two separate incidents while he was serving time in jail.

Court records show that the defendant escaped from jail on June 30th and managed to make his way over to the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA) main office in Tafuna at night, where he took a woman’s purse while she was sitting inside her vehicle. For this first case, Fa’aaliga was convicted with escape from confinement and was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, a straight sentence.

His second case — which also happened in 2016, occurred on June 19th, where he broke into an Asian Store and stole $1,500.

In this case, the defendant was convicted of felony stealing and was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment, straight sentence.

The defendant’s 12-year straight sentence from the two crimes he committed in 2016 is to be served consecutively with his 2013 sentence, from his first burglary case.

According to Kruse, the court wants to know two things:

  1. How a 30-day visitor or a tourist is going to impact the resources of the territory for 34 years?
  2. What happened to the bond that was posted and who is in fact the right sponsor.

Kruse said that the court is receiving conflicting information about who the real sponsor is. According to the two reports the court received from the Immigration Office, Fa’aaliga has two different sponsors — Pine Lauoletolo and Misipele Liaina.

Before the court ordered Peseta to take the stand, Kruse asked the government’s attorney whether he had brought the original file of the defendant’s immigration status the court ordered him to bring. Morris responded he did not have the file.

“Why?” Kruse fired back, with a raised voice; whereupon Morris replied that the file is in the container where a lot of the immigration files are kept.

“I want that file brought to court. Someone will go to jail if I don’t have that file. I’m sick and tired of dealing with this government’s old stories”, Kruse stated.

While Peseta was on the witness stand, Morris asked him if the two sponsors named in two separate reports are two different sponsors, Peseta responded “No, it’s the same person.”

When asked to describe the penalty for the sponsor when an immigrant overstays, Peseta explained that if was after their meeting with the AG in 2013 that they agreed to impose a penalty fine of $500 for the sponsor.

Kruse immediately intervened and said, “Is there a law that can support these statements. This sounds like a legal conclusion to me. Is there a regulation or were these things made up ‘on the fly’.”

Morris responded that it seems like these are part of the rules that apply to the sponsor.

“If that is the case, cite to me the law that says this. The only people who can apply a fine is the Fono. I need to see the underlying authority”, Kruse said.

Morris was silent for a moment, then Kruse looked straight at him and asked, “There is none, and it was just the flying thing, right?”

Morris replied, “Yes your honor.”

Kruse then tells a story of what happened when he arrived at the airport with some Australian passport holders one day. At the Immigration window, the Australian passport holders were told that they had to post some money.

“Forget about the amount whether it’s $20 or $50, but what caught my attention was that when they asked for a receipt, they were told to come back tomorrow and get it.

“So are these on the fly policies also, because I’m hearing that right now unless you reference it to a regulation or something. Am I getting a story here or what.

“Thirty-four (34) years potentially this society is expected to look after this young kid, and he will be an old man by that time. So, no more stories,” said the Chief Justice.

Kruse ordered the Clerk of the Court to hand over to Peseta the two separate reports from the Immigration, containing two different sponsors’ names for Fa’aaliga. The two pieces of document were both signed by Peseta and were marked as court exhibit 1 & 2.

When Kruse asked whether the two different sponsors applied for the 30-day permit for Fa’aaliga, Peseta responded, “According to this report yes (referring to the report he was holding).”

“He’s never been out of jail. He’s in jail ever since he’s been here,”, Kruse said, referring to Fa’aaliga. Peseta replied, “I only signed the verification on the first one that was provided to me Your Honor”.

“So — who’s lying to the court when we required this information for sentencing purposes,” Kruse asked; Peseta replied that he’s not lying to the court.

“You’ve just said that your office was the one that gave you the report. So, is your office the one that’s lying to the court,” he wanted to know. Peseta replied he don’t know.

Kruse turned to the government’s attorney and asked if the AG had come to court, and Morris explained that after he spoke to the AG and Peseta about this case, he made the decision to bring Peseta to the court, hoping that he would provide all the answers that would “please the court”.

Kruse’s instantaneous reply was, “He’s not pleasing the court, he’s telling me stories. And I’m not pleased if you’re not giving me the actual application form on how the 30-day permit for this young man was done.

“I’m giving you 2 weeks to bring those papers to the court. I don’t care what you’re going to do to that container, all I want is the file,” he said.

“If you give me the same song of too much work, I’ll hold the whole Immigration office in contempt,”, Kruse told Morris.

He then turned to Peseta and said, “Mr. Fuimaono, there will be consequences if I get the same story from you next time. I’m giving you 2 weeks to give me the file.”

The CJ concluded, “And for you, government, you also need to talk to Le’i [the Police Commissioner], to let us know how is he going to house this man if we revoke his probation and sentence him for 34 years. He was on the radio this morning (last Friday morning) complaining about not having enough room for inmates.”