Drugs, weapons, and lots of $$$ confiscated during police raids
Drugs, weapons, and a huge amount of cash were confiscated by armed detectives of the DPS Vice & Narcotics Unit during the early morning hours last Thursday, when they executed a search warrant on two homes — one in Taputimu, the other in Alofau — and on a taxi on the main road, suspected to contain illegal drugs.
Acting Police Commissioner, Falana’ipupu Ta'ase Sagapolutele, during a press conference yesterday, confirmed that the police raids were part of the Vice & Narcotics Unit's sting operation — ongoing for quite some time.
Three individuals — including a former cop — have been arrested as a result of last week's raids and this was the final piece of a puzzle that police have been trying to put together for a while.
Confiscated items include a large quantity of methamphetamine, with an estimated street value between $50,000 and $55,000; marijuana with a street value between $20,000 to $25,000; 3 guns (12-gauge shotgun, 357 magnum, and a pellet gun — all fully loaded); 144 bullets for the 357 magnum; various stolen items; and drug paraphernalia.
The three defendants are former DPS officer Steve Tuatoo from Alofau; Taputimu resident Cody Christian Wood; and taxi driver Lemalie Taisia.
Cash of $54,003 was confiscated from the home in Taputimu, in addition to $459 found on Wood.
The three defendants are being charged separately for unlawful possession of a controlled substance, and unlawful possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute.
The trio made their initial appearance before District Court Judge Fiti Sunia this past Monday.
Bail amount for Wood is set at $200,000 while Tuato'o's bail is set at $25,000
Taisia is being held on $5,000 bail.
None of the men have been able to post bond; therefore, they remain in custody at TCF.
If they are able to post bond, Judge Sunia has informed them of conditions of release, which include refraining from consuming alcohol or being in possession of any illegal drugs, and they are ordered to surrender themselves to random drug and alcohol testing.
A preliminary examination hearing for Wood is set for next Monday, Nov. 20th at 10:00 a.m. while Tuatoo and Taisia are scheduled to appear in court tomorrow.
Falana’ipupu said police are still continuing their investigations, to ensure drugs and illegal activities are weeded out from homes, villages and the community.
Combating the drug problem in American Samoa is the main purpose behind Police Commissioner Le'i Sonny Thompson’s plan to re-establish the Vice & Narcotics Tactical Unit earlier this year.
In an earlier interview with Samoa News, Le’i said that one week after the Vice & Narcotics Unit was officially re-established, back in July of this year, a few police officers resigned from their posts. These same police officers, according to Le'i, are the ones who were under the microscope when he became Commissioner, because there were suspicions they were involved with and engaged in alleged illegal activities — including drugs — in the territory.
Le’i said the expansion of the DPS Vice & Narcotics Tactical Unit is their commitment to combatting the infiltration of the territory by illegal drugs.
During Monday's court proceedings, the District Court was packed with family members and local residents.
One woman told Samoa News outside of the courthouse that she praises the great effort by police to find those who are allegedly distributing drugs in the community, and charging them, because it will put a stop to this increasing problem.
She said she is a victim of the drug problem because police arrested and charged her son for allegedly selling drugs to other people. She said she didn’t know anything about her son being involved in drugs until police officers came to her house a few months ago and informed her that they have arrested him for unlawful possession of a controlled substance — methamphetamine.