LIREN ZHANG a.k.a KEVIN
District Court Judge Fiti Sunia has bound over to the High Court the case against one of the defendants in the Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS) food stamp fraud, after the defendant waived his right to a preliminary hearing (PX) yesterday morning.
Liren Zhang a.k.a Kevin, who is still in custody unable to post his $450,000 bond appeared in District Court yesterday for his PX; and he is represented by private attorney William R. Olson of the RDA Law Firm, while Assistant Attorney General Robert Morris appeared on the behalf of the government.
When Zhang’s case was called, his attorney informed the court that his client wishes to waive his right to a PX, and wanted his case to bound over to the High Court for further proceeding.
Zhang, who is facing 17 criminal counts is scheduled to appear in High Court for his arraignment tomorrow at 9 a.m. before Chief Justice Michael Kruse.
The alleged fraud at the DHSS was discovered during a review of why funds for the American Samoa Nutrition Assistance Program (ASNAP) for the first quarter of FY 2018 quickly ran out.
According to a court affidavit ANZ bank redeemed $667,555 more for that period than the amount of food coupons ASNAP issued. According to court documents, a subsequent review by the DHSS and ASNAP management team discovered a high amount of counterfeit ASNAP food coupons redeemed by three ASNAP vendors during that period.
An audit is underway to ascertain the full amount that was redeemed using counterfeit food coupons, according to court documents.
The three named vendors are JFL Malae Store and Fast by Food Mart, both owned by Zhang, and Harbor View Mart, whose owner is not one of the three defendants currently being charged in the alleged fraud case.
The other two co-defendants are Jane Vasa, who is now released from prison by District Court Judge Sunia on her own recognizance to await her sentencing, after she was convicted for misdemeanor stealing, and Vincent Toeava, the son-in-law of the late DHSS Director Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona. The latter is facing 19 criminal counts, and is scheduled to appear in District Court this Friday for his PX.
A 46-year-old man who was accused by the government of using a sharp weapon to cause injuries to the head of a juvenile told the court that the accusation against him was true.
Ropeti Muao was initially charged with felony first degree assault, punishable by life in prison or at least 30 years in jail, but under a plea agreement with the government which was accepted by the High Court yesterday, the defendant pled guilty to second degree assault — which is still a felony — but punishable by no more than 5 years imprisonment, or a fine of not more than $5,000 or both.
With the guilty plea, the defendant admits that some time on May 4 last year he caused serious injuries to a juvenile by using a 12-inch pair of scissors to hit the victim’s head and neck several times. Muao, who remains in custody at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF).
Muao’s plea bargain with the government was announced in open court on Aug. 15, 2017, and was put under advisement until Oct. 27 of the same year to await the court’s decision whether to accept the plea.
When Muao appeared on Oct. 27, his case was then postponed until a later date, after the court ordered the government to consult with the victim’s family about the plea bargain with the defendant.
When the defendant’s case was called out yesterday morning, Chief Justice Michael Kruse wanted to know from the government’s attorney whether they had consulted with the victim’s family about the plea agreement, and if the family agreed to its terms.
Prosecutor Woodrow Pengelly informed the court that the government was able to consult with the victim’s family and they had agreed to all the terms and conditions of the plea.
After hearing from the government’s attorney, Kruse then accepted the defendant’s plea of guilt, and scheduled sentencing for next week Friday. Muao is still in custody unable to post his bond.
During his initial appearance in District Court this week, 23-year-old Alesana Fereti pled not guilty to two misdemeanor counts of stealing and public peace disturbance. He was released on his own recognizance to await another court appearance, scheduled for next month.
Fereti is accused of stealing a bag containing carpentry equipment from the bed of a pickup truck two weeks ago in Fagaima. A tax driver, whose taxi was in the area where the alleged incident occurred, witnessed the matter and quickly reported it to police, who were able to apprehend the defendant, along with the bag.
According to court information, police could smell alcohol on the defendant when he was taken into custody. Under the conditions of release set by the court, the defendant is prohibited from consuming alcohol and he is to remain a law-abiding citizen.