Two men to serve time in jail for importing marijuana from Samoa
How many sailors bring in goods— bypassing board controls, frustrating the customs and quarantine laws— was the question posed by Chief Justice Michael Kruse to the government when handing down the sentences for Fatu Vagana and a Lady Naomi sailor, Liki Kerisimasi, both charged in connection with drugs imported into the territory — 470 marijuana joints — from neighboring Samoa.
Vagana and Kerisimasi were each charged with unlawful possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and unlawful possession of marijuana, however in a plea deal with each of the defendants, Vagana pleaded guilty to unlawful possession with intent to distribute, while Kerisimasi from Samoa pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a controlled substance.
During sentencing, Vagana’s wife took the stand to inform the court that her husband is much needed at home and apologized on behalf of her husband for his criminal conduct. The defendant told the court that he’s fully remorseful for his actions and asked the court for a second chance to return home to care for his family and children.
Vagana further apologized to the Village Council of Aoloau, as the village’s good name has been denigrated by his actions.
Kerisimasi implored the court’s leniency to allow him to return to Samoa to care for his family and children. He told the court that he rendered assistance for someone yet it led to his arrest. He apologized to ASG for committing a crime in the territory.
Both defendants expressed remorse, pointing out they will not repeat their conduct.
The Chief Justice stated that there is an ongoing scam involving inter island ferry sailors who bring certain imported items on island, bypassing border controls which ASG already has in place. “The scam appears to be a sailor who brings over goods to specific employers.”
In this case, Kruse explained that a bag of taro was stashed with a large quantity of marijuana cigarettes.
“Kruse said, they had learned from the probation report this is not the first time this has happened and that Kerisimasi was paid $200 USD for the delivery. How many sailors bring in goods bypassing border controls, frustrating the customs and quarantine laws? Kruse asked the prosecutor, pointing out this is the bigger picture.
Kruse said that while they have heard from the defendant the need to return home to obtain employment to feed their children, the court has to look at the children of American Samoa who also had access to the contraband.
Kruse then sentenced Vagana to 10 years in jail and ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine. However, execution of sentencing was suspended and Vagana placed on probation for a period of ten years under certain conditions. He was ordered to spend 14 months in jail, and is subject to random drug testing while incarcerated. The $295 that was found on Vagana’s possession the day he was arrested was credited to his fine.
Kerisimasi was sentenced to three years in jail, with the execution of sentence also suspended, and he’s placed on probation for five years.
The sailor was sentenced to undergo one year in jail without any release and pay a fine of $2,000. Kruse said the judges believe that Kerisimasi was nothing more than a mule, who didn't think of what he was getting himself into at the time.
According to the Chief Justice, upon serving 12 months in jail, Kerisimasi will leave the territory and not return to the territory for the duration of his five years probation. The $330 that was found in Kerisimasi’s possession will be credited to the fine imposed by the court.
Kruse then ordered the marijuana to be destroyed by the Chief of Police, who was present, in the presence of the High Court’s marshal.
He then pointed out it was fortunate there was a Confidential Informant, otherwise the shipment (of 470 marijuana joints) would have come into the territory.
According to the government’s case, Vice and Narcotics were informed of alleged illegal activities going on at Vagana’s residence in Aoloau. The CI said Vagana would come to work with loose marijuana and hand rolled marijuana joints and during breaks Vagana allegedly sold marijuana to people at the work place. Court filings say that the CI rode in Vagana’s vehicle and saw marijuana inside his vehicle.
The CI further stated that he also went to Vagana’s residence where he saw marijuana, not only at his family residence but also at the shack located behind his house in Aoloau. “The CI providing information was used several times in the past, and was found to be a credible and reliable source," say court documents.
A search warrant was executed on Vagana and police began surveillance. When the Lady Naomi arrived in Port, it’s alleged Vagana drove around the town area while police followed him. Court filings say that he picked up Kerisimasi at the wharf when all passengers were through with clearance from Immigration and Customs.
According to the government’s case, police followed Vagana after he dropped off Kerisimasi at the wharf, while Vagana proceeded to the StarKist parking lot where the Vice and Narcotics approached the vehicle to execute the search warrant. Police found in the vehicle three bundles, which tested positive for marijuana.
According to the government’s case, when police questioned Kerisimasi he said he came from Apia with the package to be delivered to “someone in American Samoa who would be calling him.”