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Public Defender calls TCF a “School for Criminals”

The Tafuna Correctional Facility (TCF) is a school for criminals. That’s the message from Public Defender Ruth Risch Fuatagavi when she was making recommendations for Asotasi Maiava during his sentencing in the High Court yesterday.

Maiava participated in the robbery of a grocery store in Ottoville in October, 2011, when he pointed a BB gun toward the store clerk while demanding money from the cash register.

Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond sentenced Maiava to five years in jail, however sentencing was suspended and Maiava was placed on probation for five years, on the condition that he serves 12 months in jail. He was ordered to pay a fine of $1,000, with the condition that as soon as the fine is paid, six months will be deducted from the 12 month sentence.

Maiava was initially charged with first degree robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and unlawful use of a weapon; however he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery while the remaining charges were dismissed. Conspiracy to commit robbery, a class B felony, is punishable with a jail term of five to 15 years.

Richmond was accompanied on the bench by Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr.

The Public Defender told the court that the defendant’s actions were out of character and he was under peer pressure due to his lack of maturity. Fuatagavi pleaded with the court to take note that the defendant had already learned a huge lesson while being incarcerated at the TCF and putting him back there would only make it worse for him.

“There is no treatment program for such offenses provided at the TCF for Maiava; if he goes back he’ll just be a better criminal hanging out with a bunch of other criminals. TCF is a school for criminals” said Fuatagavi.

The court heard that Maiava has no prior record, and he has a job available to him in Memphis, Tennessee. The Public Defender pleaded with the court to place Maiava on probation and order him to pay restitution.

Maiava apologized publicly during the sentencing. “My apologies to the victim, the court and my family. This broke the relationship that I had with my family and I’m sorry”, said the defendant. He pleaded with the court for a second chance to allow him to go off-island to get a job and further his education.

Assistant Attorney General Cecilia Reyna noted that Maiava’s offense was very serious, and despite the fact it was a fake gun that was used, the victim thought it was a real gun. Reyna told the court the defendant must serve an appropriate jail time. She asked the court to consider that the two co-defendants are juveniles— Maiava was the adult— and consider the impact the incident had on the victim.

“This is a very serious matter. He (Maiava) brandished what appeared to be a real gun. Give him a sentence that will meet the facts of the case...he has to face the consequences of his actions” said Reyna.

After sentencing, Richmond told the defendant that he should appreciate the leniency the court has shown in his case.

According to court filings, Maiava pointed the BB gun at the cashier and demanded money. He was accompanied by two juveniles, and the three wore sweaters with hoods when the incident occurred. According to police the three took off with money and a lot of phone cards — the items removed were valued at more than a hundred dollars. Police were able to identify the defendants because they were caught on the store’s surveillance camera.