TCF Saga: Cop tells investigators that inmate Lefatia tried to bribe him
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Manu Lefatia, an inmate accused of escaping — with the alleged help of DPS officer Tuluiga Richard Salanoa — from the temporary holding cell (THC) in Fagatogo, is also facing allegations that he tried to bribe another police officer.
Lefatia appeared in District Court yesterday morning for a status hearing. He is currently held on a 'no bail' status at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF).
Salanoa was also in court yesterday, where he waived his right to a preliminary examination. His case has been bound over to High Court where he is expected to enter pleas of 'not guilty' to the two felony charges against him, during arraignment this morning. His bail is set at $10,000
Salanoa is charged with permitting escape and concealing an offense, for allegedly allowing Lefatia to leave the THC to visit his girlfriend, and then instructing another inmate to stage Lefatia's bed to make it appear as if someone was sleeping in it.
While Salanoa claims that no bribery was involved, (that he allowed Lefatia to leave out of the goodness of his heart) three inmates - Lefatia included - have told investigators otherwise. (See yesterday's Samoa News for details).
Samoa News understands that a police officer who was interviewed by investigators regarding Salanoa's case, said Lefatia told him that he gave Salanoa $100 "and he let me go."
According to the cop, he was assigned to guard duty at the THC on numerous occasions and one day, Lefatia asked to speak to him. He said Lefatia asked him, "Can I trust you?"
The cop said he told Lefatia, "It depends…If it is something that is going to ruin my reputation and my job Ú sorry, it is not going to happen."
The cop said Lefatia then told him that Officer Salanoa "owes me". Lefatia allegedly told the officer that he gave Salanoa $100 and "he let me go" but Salanoa "came back for another $100" but this time, "he did not let me go."
The cop said Lefatia told him, "If you let me go to see my kids, I can give you $100."
The cop said he responded, "It's not going to happen." Lefatia was persistent, telling the cop his ride was on the way and it's "too far for them to turn back." Nonetheless, the cop was adamant, "it's not going to happen on my watch."
Lefatia asked the cop to summon Salanoa but then changed his mind and said he didn't want Salanoa to know that this other cop knew the arrangement between them. "I don't want anyone to know about this," Lefatia said, according to the cop's statement in the court affidavit.
Sometime late last month, the cop confided in a fellow officer, and shared with him how Lefatia "tried to bribe him." That same cop went back to Lefatia and asked him about what he had been told, at which point Lefatia then told the cop he allegedly tried to bribe, "I don't want to mess this up because this is the only way I can see my kids, since Capt. Supapo messed it all up."
When questioned, Lefatia told investigators that he gave Salanoa money four times: $40, $60, $80, $80
He said Salanoa only paid him back once — $40
ANOTHER COP NAMED
While Salanoa is now sitting behind bars, the other cop named in the criminal complaint — for alleged favorable treatment of Lefatia — is yet to be criminally charged.
(Samoa News is withholding his name until formal charges are filed).
According to the criminal complaint, an inmate at the THC told police that sometime during January this year, the officer unlocked Lefatia's cell and left the area. A female entered Lefatia's cell at around 10p.m. and she didn't leave until 4 a.m. the next morning.
The same inmate claims that last month, he saw the same cop and Lefatia engaged in a "secret" conversation at the THC. Shortly thereafter, Lefatia contacted an unknown person by phone and told them to "come now." At about 11p.m., Lefatia departed the THC and "hours later" he overheard Lefatia calling out to another inmate, announcing that he was back. When the inmate inquired about what time it was, the officer said 4 a.m.
According to the inmate, the officer allowed Lefatia to leave the THC a second time last month. The other two inmates were told to go to sleep. Lefatia returned at 4a.m.
When investigators questioned another inmate, they got the same story. According to this inmate, it was in November 2018 that Lefatia and the police officer became "comfortable" with each other. It was also at this time that Lefatia asked the cop if he could invite his girlfriend to the THC.
According to the inmate, the cop "accommodated the request by leaving the cells of all three inmates unsecured" before proceeding to the Fagatogo Central Station. Lefatia's girlfriend arrived and "spent time with him until about 5a.m."
After the girlfriend departed, the cop returned to THC and secured all three inmates back in their cells.
The cop was questioned by detectives last Tuesday, March 12. During the interview, the cop said he was "just as shocked as anyone else" about Lefatia escaping from the THC. He told detectives that when he is on guard duty at the THC, he "does not keep the three inmates confined in their cells; rather, he lets the 'roam free' because it makes him feel safer."
When asked to elaborate, the cop said he "relies" on one of the inmates to watch his back…and he trusts that inmate "with his life". With regards to Lefatia escaping, the cop said, "he must have gotten out somehow," adding that he conducts head counts but because he "hangs out" with them, "he loses track."
When asked if he ever let Lefatia out, the cop said no. But he did admit that he allowed Lefatia's girlfriend to be inside the THC.
According to a statement from one of the girls alleged to be Lefatia's girlfriend, who lives in Malaeimi, Lefatia picked her up about 4 times this year and they would stay together for hours.
Lefatia is alleged to have picked the girl up in a rental car and their relationship was discovered after a photo of them together was posted on Facebook.
Yet another girlfriend - this one from Laulii - is mentioned in court documents. This woman is allegedly the one that drops food off at the THC when Lefatia calls. The food is picked up by Salanoa in front of the DPS Records Office.
(In addition to the new charges, Lefatia is also charged in a case where he is accused of escaping from the TCF and then shooting a man in Leone; and a case that alleges he assaulted another inmate).