Kruse orders gov’t to hand over discovery in Food Stamp fraud case
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Chief Justice Michael Kruse has instructed the government attorney that by June 1st, all discovery in the case against one of the defendants in the food stamp fraud case must be turned over to the defense attorney; if not, “there are consequences” of failure to comply with the court’s order.
Vincent Toeava, who is facing 19-criminal counts and is still in custody unable to post a $450,000 surety bond, appeared in High Court last week for his pretrial conference and motion to reduce bond.
Assistant Attorney General Robert Morris is prosecuting the case while private attorney David Vargas is representing Toeava.
When the case was called last week, Kruse asked both attorneys for a recap on the status of the case.
Morris said the government has not yet received the police report. He said he contacted the investigating police officer regarding the report, but the answer was “it’s not ready.”
Before asking for a continuance, Morris reminded the court that Toeava’s co-defendant will appear on June 1st. He asked if Toeava’s case can be continued to the same date, hoping the government will receive the police report and discovery, which will be handed over to the defense.
Vargas on the other hand, said he is not happy with the government’s late request for a continuance.
“Without discovery, I can’t go forward with anything in this case,” Vargas said.
“I also have a motion I’m about to argue this morning (last Friday) about a reduction in bail; however, I can’t argue that motion because I don’t have anything from this case at all.”
“What are you looking for? You mentioned something about discovery. What did they supply to you?” Kruse asked Vargas, who said he didn't receive anything from the government, aside from the list of charges and the affidavit, but no discovery at all.
“Okay, so what are you asking for?” Kruse asked Vargas again.
“I'm asking for everything,” Vargas replied.
Kruse looked confused and immediately asked another question. “What is everything? We got mango trees on island. What is everything?”
Vargas answered, “We’re asking for all the evidence of the case, the witnesses testimonies and statements, bank records, and all other discovery the government can share in this case.”
Kruse then turned to the prosecutor and asked, “Government, what’s going on?”
Counsel Morris said he spoke to the investigating police officers about the police report, and they informed him that they’re stilling working on it. He assured the court that he would turn over “all discovery” once he receives them from the investigating team.
Kruse then turned to the defense and said, “Alright, I have to continue this case cause I can’t order the government to give you everything because I don’t understand what everything means.”
Vargas reiterated that he wants everything.
“So tell me what everything means?” Kruse insisted with a raised voice.
Vargas again told the court that what he wants is all the information regarding his client’s case. He said once he receives all the information then he'll be able to argue more about the case.
Kruse turned back to Morris and ordered him to turn over everything regarding Toeava’s case before June 1st, if not, there will be consequences for not complying with the court's order.
Vargas quickly intervened and said he will not be available June 1st.
“I’m scheduled to depart on June 1st and I already filed my note of unavailability to the court,” Vargas said.
“By the way, Bar members, notice of unavailability doesn’t mean anything to the court. It’s just a courtesy — it doesn’t mean anything. You can’t go hide behind it,” Kruse said in response to Vargas' statement.
Vargas immediately responded, “Your honor, I’m not hiding behind it.”
The Chief Justice immediately responded, “No, no, I’m just saying it, because I also have another situation like this with a note of unavailability. It drives me nuts."
He then set the case to be heard on May 31st, which is next week Thursday instead of Friday, June 1st.
“I don’t know what everything is but something must be discoverable, government, and if not, there are consequences,” Kruse said.
He assured the defense that their motion to reduce bond would be heard that same day.
Toeava, a former employee of the Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS), is one of the 3 individuals the government charged in the food stamp fraud case earlier this year in January. His two co-defendants are Liren Zhang, a.k.a Kevin, a businessman, and Jane Vasa, another former DHSS employee.
This is not the first time Vargas has filed a motion for bail reduction for his client. In January, he filed a motion in District Court for a bail reduction to $50,000 from $450,000 but Judge Fiti Sunia denied the motion pointing to the 19 class C felony charges that carry a maximum term of imprisonment of up to 193 years in jail and the amount of money that’s allegedly involved in the case.
“Bear in mind that every single charge against your client is an allegation and all of these things go together to a determination that the defendant is a flight risk,” Sunia said, before he denied a reduction of bail, saying the current amount is reasonable.