Five more years at TCF for Tago Jr as he can’t pay his fines
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A man serving a 5-year sentence for a drug conviction from last November now has 5 more years tacked on to his time at the TCF, after the High Court yesterday revoked his 2009 probation for failing to pay a $5,000 fine and make his monthly visits to the Probation Office.
Sui Tago Jr was one of three men arrested and charged following a drug raid last year. He was on probation when he got picked up.
Last November, Judge Elvis P. Patea sentenced Tago Jr to 5 years for unlawful possession of methamphetamine.
He appeared before Chief Justice Michael Kruse yesterday morning for a disposition hearing.
Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill represented Tago Jr while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn.
The matter was continued from last Wednesday because the court wanted attorneys from both sides to define the differences between ‘debts’ and ‘fines’.
When the case was called, Kruse informed both attorneys that the term ‘debts’ as defined is the Constitution is different from ‘fines’.
McNeill said Tago Jr admits to violating probation and he asked the court to consider any suitable light sentence for his client, who is serving 5 years for another matter.
Kruse broke in and asked McNeill what he meant by ‘light sentence’.
“He was given the chance to pay his fine; however, he failed to comply with the court’s order,” Kruse told McNeill.
The defense attorney said he understands his client failed to comply with the court's order, however, given the situation — that his client is detained and the fact that he’s unemployed — he felt the court should consider those issues and give Tago Jr a lesser sentence.
Kruse told McNeill that if he wants to put something on record, his client has to be sworn in and put on the stand.
McNeill agreed. He then turned to his client who was sitting next to him and said, “Raise your right hand. Do you...”
Kruse interfered and said, “Counsel, you need to get approval from the Lt. Governor before you swear in the defendant.”
Kruse then ordered Tago Jr to the witness stand where he was sworn in.
When asked by his attorney if he admits that he failed to comply with conditions of his probation including not paying his fine and not making his monthly visits to the Probation Office, Tago Jr said, yes.
He testified that he lost his Fono job when he was released from prison after serving a 4-year/ 8-month sentence.
“I lost everything when I came out of prison," Tago Jr said, adding that in addition to losing his job, his father passed away while he was incarcerated.
"I tried my best to look for another job to care for my family," but it was very hard and "that’s why I made a decision to stay home and care of my elderly mother and my young siblings,” Tago Jr told the court.
He said he was released from TCF towards the end of 2013, and to this day, he is still unemployed.
Responding to Kruse's questions, Tago Jr said he's 43 years old and weighs 230 lbs.
“Who fed you in the 5 years since you've been released from prison?” Kruse asked. Tago Jr said it is his mother who feeds and cares for him.
“You’re 43 years old and you still depend on your mother to feed you and care for you?Is that what you’re telling the court?” Kruse said to the defendant while raising his voice.
Kruse wanted Tago Jr to address the issue of his fine, and who is going to pay for it.
Tago Jr said it's his mom who's going to pay for it, as she only found out about it recently. He said his mother has already spoken to one of the Probation officers about it, and she will start making payments next month.
The answers didn't sit well with the court.
“You look at me. You committed the crime, not your mother. Do you understand? You’re 43 now. Grow up,” Kruse said to the defendant.
Tago Jr in a low voice told the court that his mom agreed to pay his fines because he’s unemployed.
“If you can’t pay your fines, I will send you back to prison,” Kruse said.
The courtroom was silent for a few seconds. When Kruse asked about his mom's age, Tago Jr said 81. The defendant’s mother was in court the whole time.
Kruse then revoked Tago Jr’s 2009 probation and ordered him to serve the 5-year suspended jail term, which will run concurrent (at the same time) to his current sentence.