Superintendent of Maritime Division for Samoa’s Minister of Police to serve jail time

On 4 counts of theft as a public servant
joyetter@samoanews.com

Apia, SAMOA — “You should be ashamed of yourself,” were the words uttered by Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence when handing down sentencing for Superintendent of Maritime Division of the Minister of Police, Tagaolo Iosefatu Wright. Vui pointed out the defendant was found guilty on three counts of theft as a [public] servant of a total of 120 liters of petrol during 2014 and one count of theft as a servant of four sheets of plywood in January 2015. The properties belonged to the Police and at the time the defendant held the rank of Superintendent and headed the Division.

During sentencing last week Vui said the defendant’s modus operandi according to the evidence was that he would wait until the end of the day when few officers were on duty, then instruct one of his subordinate officers to siphon the petrol using a hose into smaller 20 liter jerry-cans. These were then placed in the boot of his mini-van.

“Although only three charges could be proven I was satisfied from the evidence of the many Police officers called that the defendant was engaged over a period of time in the systematic plunder of Police petrol for his own personal purposes. According to some of the witnesses this had been going on for years.”

Vui noted the theft of the four sheets of plywood was different. This was one-off offending but again was carried out on the defendant’s instructions and under his supervision. He noted that during the trial there were testimonies he found disturbing from the defendant’s subordinate officers including those of senior rank that seemed to be part of a Police culture of blind loyalty and obedience to superior officers.

“Loyalty and obedience are qualities to be admired but not to the extent of turning a blind eye to what was potentially criminal behavior on the part of a senior colleague.

“Only when an investigation was launched did these police officers then feel confident and assured enough to report what they had witnessed. I have struck this in other cases involving Police officers and it is hoped that this kind of inexcusable, neglectful and dishonorable malaise can be permanently purged from the police psyche: and that Police officers of all rank be reminded of the terms of the sacred oath they took before God, the court and the people of this country, an oath which relevantly reads I do swear that I will well and truly serve the Independent State of Samoa without favor or affection; that I will prevent to the best of my power all offence against the same; and that I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law. So help me God,” the Justice said. “An oath which Tagaolo deliberately and callously shredded into many little pieces.”

The maximum penalty for each count of theft is up to 10 years imprisonment “and while the monetary value of these materials is small, the criminality of the defendant’s offending in my view is not. He held a senior rank in the Police and in the Maritime Division. He was the Officer in Charge. The degree of responsibility vested in him was of the highest order. As was the trust bestowed upon him as a Senior Police Officer. The public as they are entitled to do, put their faith in those who enforce the law. They look to them for protection and assistance in times of desperation and need. The defendant was not of junior rank.

“As Superintendent, he was the third most senior in the Police structure. He has let down all other Police officers who toil honesty and faithfully for long hours and barely adequate recompense. You sir have betrayed these people and these principles. You should be ashamed of yourself,” Vui said.

He further pointed out evidence showed the defendant treated the Maritime Division Oil Store as his own private gas station. “He filled up as and when he considered necessary. Openly and flagrantly abused his authority. Setting a deplorable example for junior officers. As officer-in-charge, he were accountable to no one.

“A state of affairs the court hopes the Ministry of Police have now rectified. Compounding his offending is the fact that he still refuses to take responsibility for his actions,” Justice Vui said.

Vui said the defendant told the Probation Office he strongly believes he was set up by his police colleagues and that some of his colleagues have something against him therefore they have orchestrated this scheme and have blamed him for this matter.

“Considering the overwhelming nature of the evidence produced, I find that suggestion to be utter nonsense,” Vui said. He further noted the defendant’s sentence must send two unequivocal messages to the public at large and to public servants and police in particular — “firstly that no one is above the laws of our community.

“Not you sir, nor I, nor any of those above us. Secondly that anyone tempted to emulate your behavior should have no illusion as to the dangerous path they tread and where it can lead. There is no question in my mind an imprisonment term is appropriate to the defendant’s offending. But the term must be tailored to the particular circumstances of his case. And take due account of mitigating factors in his favor.”

Vui took into consideration the fact that Tagaolo is not an ordinary servant and this was no “ordinary” theft and began sentence at the lower end of the scale, namely 3 years in prison.

In mitigation, the Probation Office which notes the defendant’s clean record, his achievements and distinguished service as a Police Officer as well as his faithful tautua to his family, community and church.

“Supported by references from various people including your faifeau and pulenuu.  For these factors I discount as per usual sentencing practice of the court six months from your sentence. Leaves a balance of two and a half years.”

The justice also noted that a receipt of $1,000 was paid for recoveries Cost of Ministry of Police and the court took this to be some form of restitution for the stolen petrol as no value for that was ascertainable from the evidence produced at trial.

Vui accepted that this constitutes — for present purposes — full restitution in respect of the theft of petrol charges and deducted a further six months from is sentence; leaving a balance of two years in prison.

He then also took away another 12 months noting that police officers with the nature of their work face unique difficulties when serving imprisonment terms and more senior the rank, the more pronounced these may be.

Vui further noted an apology was made to the Ministry of Police however, “I deduce therefore the apology was only made subsequently. In my respectful view, it is too little too late. And was only done in an effort to mitigate penalty. Furthermore, considering what you told the Probation Office I do not accept its sincerity and will not give it any mitigating value.”

The justice then sentenced the defendant to serve 12 months in jail and for the count of theft for stealing plywood that was returned, the defendant is convicted and sentenced to three months in prison, to be served concurrently.

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