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Paul Solofa found guilty of tampering and obstruction

Department of Education’s former business office manager Paul Solofa has been found guilty by a 12-member jury at the federal court in Washington D.C. on one count each of witness tempering and obstruction of justice in connection with the DOE school bus spare parts scheme.

The federal jury handed down its verdict late yesterday morning against Solofa, who is now set for sentencing on Apr. 27. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the witness tampering charge and 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the obstruction of justice charge.

"Honest testimony is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. The FBI will continue to pursue anyone who tampers with witnesses and attempts  to short-circuit the rule of law" said Honolulu FBI spokesman Tom Simon, responding to Samoa News inquiries for comments.

The FBI was among the federal agencies involved in the investigation into this case, which first came to light during a Senate Select Investigation Committee probe back in 2004 and the committee had forwarded its findings to the federal government and local authorities. The local Department of Public Safety also conducted its own investigation with findings sent to the federal government but no local charges were ever filed.

There was no immediate reaction from Solofa’s defense attorney or the U.S. Justice Department regarding the verdict.

Solofa, 51, was arrested by local FBI agents at the DOE school lunch warehouse in early September 2010 after the federal grand jury in Washington D.C. handed down the two count indictment. At the time of his arrest, Solofa was serving as school lunch program manager, while the charges against him were from the time he had served as DOE business office manager several years ago.

According to evidence presented at trial, in approximately early 2008, federal authorities began conducting an investigation into allegations of cash bribes and kickbacks paid by vendors to officials of the American Samoa government in connection with the government’s purchase of school bus parts and service, said the U.S. Justice Department in a news release after the verdict was made public.

Trial evidence also states that Solofa met on April 3, 2009, with a school bus parts vendor who told Solofa that the FBI was interested in interviewing the vendor regarding the bus parts investigation. (The vendor in this case has been identified in previous court filings as Pacific Products, a local firm).

Solofa, in a recorded meeting, told the vendor that the FBI cannot do anything with cash and the FBI cannot track down the vendor on the case. “Because even if you say you gave me cash I'll tell them ‘no.’ They cannot take your word on cash. Because that’s hearsay,” according to prosecutors evidence given during the trial.

In addition, according to the evidence presented at trial, as noted in the Justice Department statement, Solofa met on April 14, 2009, with the same bus parts vendor, who told Solofa that a grand jury subpoena requiring production of specific documents and records, some of which related to Solofa and to the bus parts kickback scheme, would be issued shortly.

“After discussing how to respond, Solofa told the vendor that, as for documents he did not want to produce, ‘ [t]he only way to do it with those copies is burn it. That way, they won’t see it, and you won’t worry that they might see it, you know… Just burn it, and nobody has a copy’,” the Justice Department statement notes.