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PCP case bound over to High Court

Wen Ting Chen outside of the District Court after her preliminary examination hearing last week Thursday.  [photo by AF]

The case of an Asian woman who has been accused of allegedly bringing illegal substances, to wit; Phencyclidine (PCP) into the territory when she entered American Samoa last month has been bound over to the High Court, after District Court Judge Fiti Sunia found probable cause to support the charges against her, during a preliminary examination hearing last week.

According to court information, this is the first time the government is prosecuting a case of someone bringing PCP in the territory.

Wen Ting Chen is charged with two counts of unlawful possession of the controlled substance Phencyclidine (PCP); and unlawfully bringing an illegal substance without permission into the territory — both felonies. Each count is punishable by not less than 5 years imprisonment, and/or a fine of not less than $5,000 or both.

Prosecuting the case is new Assistant Attorney General Jilliam B. Sadler, while Assistant Public Defender Kate Hannaher is representing the defendant who is out on a $10,000 surety bond.

According to the government, Chen hid 2 bottles of pills inside her luggage by covering them with a pair of underwear when she entered the territory last month. The pills were taken to the LBJ lab where they tested positive for PCP ingredients.

Det. John Seumanutafa, the lead investigator, was the only witness the government called to the stand, during Thursday's PX hearing.

Cross examination of the witness, centered on whether the defendant had any knowledge that the pills that were in her possession were illegal substances, and whether she had any intention of bringing them into the territory.

According to Seumanutafa's sworn testimony, it was around 1:40p.m on July 10, 2017 when he received a phone called from the Customs Office K-9 unit at the airport, requesting police assistance on a matter involving illegal substances.

It was a K-9 Customs dog that alerted to the defendant during a routine check of passengers arriving at the airport.

The defendant was pulled aside for a search of not only of herself but also her luggage, where a Customs officer found the 2 bottles of pills hidden under a pair of underwear.

Each pill bottle had a label “USA Purchasing” on the side, but there was no patient name or or the name of the doctor who issued the prescription.

Seumanutafa was able to interview the defendant who told him that the pills were for weight loss, and she purchased them online for her own use.

The defendant was able to show to the investigating officer from her phone the name of the website she bought her pills from,  but the officer was unable to understand any of it because it was all in Chinese.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Sharron Rancourt asked the witness if he ever had a chance to search the defendant’s luggage, and whether the two bottles were found inside one luggage or both, but the witness said that he didn’t carry out the search.

“The statement that I made in regards to this case came from the K-9 Customs officer who did the search inside the defendant’s luggage. I did not see the luggage and I didn’t search it,” Seumanutafa testified.

Rancourt also asked the witness if he knew whether her client had any knowledge that the pills are an illegal substance, and she also queried how the testing at the LBJ laboratory was conducted.

Seumanutafa said that during the interview with the defendant, it was revealed that she had no idea the pills inside the bottles were illegal, and he also had no knowledge on how the testing at the LBJ lab was conducted.

During the attorney’s final submissions of the case before Judge Sunia rendered his decision, Prosecutor Morris argued that the defendant failed to provide to the Customs officer a prescription for the pills and also hid the item under a pair of underwear.

Rancourt on the other hand told the court that her client does not have any personal knowledge that the pills contain PCP, but she believed it was for weight loss, and she had no intention of bringing or smuggling PCP into the territory.

She also argued that the testing conducted at the LBJ lab had no foundation  and the government witness does not have any personal knowledge about testing procedures.

However, Judge Sunia found probable cause to support both counts against the defendant, and the case has been bound over to the High Court, where Chen is scheduled to appear for arraignment today at 9 a.m.