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Arrest breaks string of burglaries on the west side

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The government has charged two men in connection with an Iliili store burglary. But one of them has confessed to breaking in to three other stores.

In this case, the accused allegedly yanked the cash register from the counter and took off with it. The storeowner told police the cash register contained $945 cash.

Aleki “Alex” Nomeneta, the driver of the ‘getaway vehicle’ is charged with stealing, responsible for conduct of another class C felony; while Tualega Minute is charged with first-degree burglary and stealing, both felonies.

According to the government’s case, the Iliili store burglary was reported to police on Feb. 23, 2019. When CID detectives viewed the video footage, the culprit had his face covered. He wore black Dickies shorts, black slippers, and a black long-sleeve shirt.

One witness told police that around the time of the alleged crime, he saw a silver 4-door vehicle heading south of Iliili; however, the witness didn’t recognize anyone in the vehicle, which didn’t have a license plate.

Another witness who saw the same vehicle, recognized the driver. This witness told police that Nomeneta called out to him, asking if he could borrow his tool box for a “side job”. According to the witness, “Nomeneta was sweating, seemed nervous, and was acting suspicious.”

The witness said there were 2 other people in the car. The next day, co-defendant Tualega’s aunty called police and filed a missing persons report, saying Tualega had not been seen since Saturday.

A routine police patrol found the vehicle described by Tualega’s aunty; and a traffic officer approached Tualega at Lions Park to inform him that his aunty had filed a missing persons report.

Tualega drove to the Tafuna Substation and told police that he hadn’t been home for several days. The traffic officer contacted DPS about the vehicle involved in the alleged robbery, matching the description of the vehicle at the police station, and Tualega fit the description.

Police interviewed Tualega who then confessed to the burglary of a Fogagogo store.

Tualega allegedly told police that Nomeneta was his ‘accomplice’ who drove the getaway vehicle, and there was $380-$390 cash in the register; and after he removed the cash register, they drove south of Iliili where Nomeneta asked someone if he could borrow his tool box.

Tualega told police that Nomeneta wanted to borrow the tool box so they can plan the burglary of yet another store in the area, that same night.

Tualega confessed to police that he had planned with another person to break into a store in Fagaima, and around January 30, 2019, he and another man, an employee of that store, broke into the establishment and stole several items.

According to the government, Tualega went to the Fagaima store during the day for a job interview and “scoped out the place for the burglary.” It’s alleged that in the evening, Tualega “loosened about 12-14 screws on the back side of the wall and bent the metal plate to gain access into the building.”

When he got in, he went straight to the back of the office, pried open the office door using a crowbar, and walked towards the filing cabinet. “He also pried open the cabinet where the cash was located and he took off with close to $2,500,” according to the government.

Court filings note that Tualega also confessed to breaking into J&L Merchandise in Nuu’uli in December 2018. Tualega said he was with another man, who drove the “getaway car.” Tualega didn’t reveal the name of the getaway driver for this incident.

He told police that if he reveals that person’s name, that person will hurt him and his family. “The vehicle was parked in front of the store and he got out, walked into the store, and grabbed the cash register and then ran back out and they drove to Kokoland where they opened the cash register and got out the cash,” the government alleges.

In court filings, Tualega confessed to yet another burglary he was involved in, also in December 2018. It was a Malaeimi laundromat.

It’s alleged that he covered his face and pointed a black ‘BB’ gun and threatened the cashier, before taking the cash register.  He was with another man, who was driving the ‘getaway vehicle.’

Tualega and his accomplice drove to Vaitogi where they opened the cash register, took the cash, and dumped the register into the ocean.

It’s unclear if police have charged Tualega in the other cases he’s admitted to, or if they found the other suspects in those cases.

But for the most recent case, Nomeneta and Tualega made their initial appearances in District Court last week where bond was set at $10,000 each.

Preliminary hearings for both defendants is later this week.