Sentencing for Jane Vasa in Food Stamp case continued
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — District Court Judge Fiti Sunia has continued sentencing for Jane Vasa, one of the defendants, from the Department of Human Social Services (DHSS) food stamp program case, until the cases against the other two defendants are finalized in High Court.
Vasa, who was released on her own recognizance appeared last week in District Court for sentencing. She was initially charged with one count of stealing, a class C felony, punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 7 years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
However, the felony count against Vasa was dismissed by Sunia in Feb. 2018, after the government attorney at the time, Robert Morris informed the court during a preliminary examination (PX) that the government was not prepared to present any evidence.
The government then filed a new charge of misdemeanor stealing against Vasa, the charge that the defendant pled guilty to.
In her plea, Vasa admitted that she gave one of the co-defendants a ream of food stamp coupon paper — without any permission — for the purpose of committing an offense .
When questioned by investigators, Vasa admitted that some time during the first week of Dec. 2017 while she was assigned to the Issuance office of DHSS ASNAP (American Samoa Nutrition Assistance Program), she was approached by Victor Toeava, one of the co-defendants in the alleged food stamp fraud case.
During the encounter, Toeava, asked her to provide him with Food Stamp Coupon papers because he needed it to create his business cards. Vasa asserted that she was reluctant to accommodate Toeava’s request but acquiesced to it two weeks later and provided him with one unopened box of Food Stamp coupon paper. During the following week, Toeava gave her $4,000 and she accepted it.
Vasa appeared in District Court last week for sentencing and she was given the opportunity to address the court before Sunia continued the sentencing.
Vasa apologized to the court for her action. She also apologized to her family, her former employer DHSS, her husband and children, and lastly to her in-laws.
In her own words while sitting beside her attorney, Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson, a crying Vasa told the court that what she did was wrong and everyone who supported her including her families were affected by her action. She then asked the court for another chance to continue to care for her children and family.
Prosecutor Bianca Lherisson asked the court to sentence Vasa to a term of probation of 24 months without any term of detention. She further told the court that although this is Vasa’s first conviction, the government feels that a 24-month probation sentence is suitable for her, based on the facts of the case.
“What are the facts of the case?” Sunia asked the prosecutor. Lherisson told the court that she understands that most of the case’s facts were contained in the information that is under seal and only the court can review it.
Defense attorney, Anderson intervened and told the court that his client admitted that “she stole some reams.”
“And the reams relate to?” Sunia asked Anderson.
The defense attorney replied, “It was for food stamp coupons.”
Sunia looked at Anderson for a moment and then asked him whether his client understood that the box she gave to the co-defendant was for food stamp coupons. Anderson responded, saying Vasa was unaware about the situation.
“What was inside the box that your client gave to the co-defendant?” Sunia asked Anderson. The defense replied, “It was a ream of paper.”
“Are the reams used for a specific purpose? Is that food stamp coupon paper?” Sunia asked again. Anderson responded saying the ream of paper was used for food stamp coupons. Sunia told the defense attorney that the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) provided some helpful information about the facts of the case, and he believes that it might be helpful for both sides.
“What was her relation to the reams?” Sunia asked Anderson again. The defense attorney said, Vasa was the one responsible for issuance of the coupons.
Anderson supported the government’s recommendation for 24 months probation, saying that his client was unaware of the situation when her co-defendant asked her for the box of food stamp coupon paper.
Sunia then called both attorneys to the bench for a brief meeting.
After the meeting with the attorneys, Sunia suspended Vasa’s sentencing until the High Court matter against the other two co-defendants is resolved.
A status hearing for Vasa’s case is now scheduled on Aug. 3, 2018 at 9 a.m.
STATUS OF CO-DEFENDANTS
Vasa’s co-defendants, Toeava and Liren Zhang a.k.a Kevin appeared in High Court last week for their hearings, however, their cases were both continued until next month to give the government more time to turn over remaining reports and discovery to the defense.
Toeava, who is facing 19 criminal counts appeared in court last week for his motion to reduce bond. When his case was called, his attorney David Vargas informed the court that he hasn't receive all of the reports and discovery from the government.
The new prosecutor, Jason Mitchell who is now assigned to handle the case told the court that the government is still waiting for some evidence from the police and the bank.
Chief Justice Michael Kruse asked Vargas what he wanted to do. Vargas replied that he can’t argue any motion because the hasn’t receive all the discovery he’s being waiting for.
“Without discovery we unable to go to a plea negotiation or even argue for a bond reduction. It has been since January and I don’t know why it is taking so long for the government to turn over the discovery for the case,” Vargas told the court.
Kruse told Vargas that the court cannot do anything either to help him because the government is still waiting for some reports and discovery.
“The government said that they’re waiting for the last part of discovery. So I can’t help you and I can’t compel anything for you because nothing exists. I said this to you before,” Kruse told Vargas, and the defense attorney said he understands the court’s position.
For Kevin’s case, Mitchell informed the court of the same situation and asked for another continuance, until the government puts together the last part of its reports and discovery and hands it over to the defense.
Kevin’s attorney, William Olson from the RDA Law Firm agreed with the government and informed the court that they continue to wait while the government is trying to put together discovery for the case.
Toeava and Kevin are both still in custody unable to post their $450,000 bonds set by the court.