Chief Immigration Officer’s criminal case bound over to High Court
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The criminal case against Chief Immigration Officer (CIO), Peseta Dennis Fuimaono has been bound over to High Court. Peseta is scheduled to appear before Chief Justice Michael Kruse this morning for his arraignment.
Peseta appeared before District Court Pro Tem, Gwen Tauiliili-Langkilde last Friday for his preliminary examination (PX). He is represented by private attorney, Togiola T. A Tulafono, while Independent Prosecutor (IP) David Vargas is prosecuting the case.
Peseta, who is out on a $15,000 cash bond is charged with attempted kidnapping, a class D felony; along with 3 misdemeanor charges of attempting to hinder prosecution; attempting to obstruct government operations; and responsibility for the conduct of another.
It was in the middle of his PX, that Peseta’s defense attorney Togiola stood up and told the court that his client wished to waive the rest of the PX, and let the case bind over to the High Court for further proceedings.
This was after the IP had asked the court to treat the Governor's Chief of Staff, Fiu Johnny Saelua, as a “hostile witness” during questioning at Friday’s PX.
For the PX, the prosecution had on the stand the chief investigator in the case, Captain Pierre Clemens and the Governor's Chief of Staff, Fiu Johnny Saelua.
PROSECUTION’S FIRST WITNESS
Capt. Clemens in his testimony stated to the court that this case was transferred to him after the victim, Simeleke Tainafi, accompanied by her husband, Maori Sipai and Ipu Lefiti walked into the DPS Criminal Investigations Division (CID) office and filed a complaint against Peseta and Fiu.
During the course of his investigation, Clemens said that he interviewed several people involved in this case, including Peseta, Fiu, several Immigration Officers (IOs), the victim and her husband, along with their sponsor, Sinu’utasi Toelupe, who is Fiu’s sister.
Simeleke is the woman whose allegations of sexual abuse against Fiu resulted in him being charged last year with one class C felony count of 1st degree sexual abuse. However, the felony count was dismissed and Fiu pled no contest to the new charge of third degree assault, a class C misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 6 months probation.
When Vargas asked Clemens about the connection between Fiu and the victim, the witness stated that it was revealed during the investigation that in 1997, the female victim came to American Samoa from Samoa and lived with her mother at Fiu’s residence. She returned to Samoa in 2000, traveling frequently back and forth to American Samoa.
The victim’s mother started working for Fiu’s family in 1992 as a domestic worker. In 2008, the mother called her daughter (the victim) to come to AS to help her with her duties. The victim continued to work for Fiu until 2014 when Fiu allegedly started to engage in conduct of a sexual nature. In September 2016, Fiu allegedly called the female victim to help him with his earring. Since Fiu had two holes in one ear, the female asked Fiu which hole he wanted the earring in.
Fiu’s response was that of a sexual reference and while he was talking to the victim, he allegedly swiped/ touched her private parts. The victim’s husband saw what Fiu did and the two men got into a heated argument, which ended up with the female victim being assaulted by her husband.
The couple left Fiu’s residence and sought refuge at another family’s home, also in Leone. One month later, the couple went back to Fiu’s residence to explain why they left. While the female victim was trying to explain, one of Fiu’s daughters, Laloifi “Beef” Saelua interfered and allegedly assaulted her.
Clemens said that Fiu told him that the reason he called Peseta, was so the couple could be deported to prevent them from filling a complaint against him. Fiu further stated to Clemens that after speaking to Peseta over the phone, the CIO knew that the purpose behind the conversation to deport the couple was to prevent any charges being filed against him by the government.
Clemens also revealed during the PX that Peseta sent two Immigration Officers (IOs) to bring the couple from Leone to the Fagatogo wharf. The two IOs were Itai Sataua and Jeremiah Jerry Gaisoa.
However, the couple was not deported back to Samoa when two other IOs who were working on the wharf that day — Sam Soliai and Jason Laumoli — stopped the deportation, as the necessary documents were not available.
PROSECUTION’S SECOND WITNESS
During the questioning of Fiu, who was the second prosecution’s witness, Vargas asked for permission to treat Fiu as a hostile witness.
Vargas made the request after he had questioned Fiu about a statement he had made that he contacted Peseta for help in removing the alleged victims from the territory to prevent a complaint by Simeleke of a criminal nature against him.
Vargas asked Fiu if he recalled their agreement with the government when his criminal case came before the court last year. Fiu replied, yes. He said he remembered that part of his agreement with the government, and that he wrote a statement in the presence of his attorney.
In his statement, he agreed to testify truthfully for the government against Peseta, and he also agreed to tell the truth.
Vargas asked Fiu if he had contacted the defendant and asked for assistance in removing the couple to prevent Simeleke from making a complaint against him.
Fiu answered, as he said in his statement he contacted Peseta because he was concerned about the sponsorship for the couple as they had left their house. The couple’s sponsor is Fiu’s sister, Sinu’utasi.
Vargas asked him the same question again and Fiu answered that he requested Peseta for the legal process for removal of sponsorship. Vargas asked a third time and Fiu, who seemed to have a hearing problem, said, "As I mentioned I asked how I can remove them from our sponsorship."
“Did you ask Peseta to remove these two individuals (referring to the victim, Simeleke and her husband) from American Samoa?” Vargas asked Fiu again.
Fiu responded that he wrote down in his statement that the reason why he called Peseta was because the couple left their family a couple of weeks before and he was more concerned about the sponsorship.
Vargas then asked to approach the bench.
After a few minutes, the hearing resumed and Vargas made his request to treat Saelua as a hostile witness. Defense attorney Togiola objected saying that the prosecutor was making a determination that the witness was hostile when this should be left to the judge.
He said it was not fair to the defense for this issue to be raised at this time.
Judge Pro Tem Tauiliili Langkilde said she would make a ruling on the request after a one-hour lunch break.
When the hearing resumed after the break, Peseta’s attorney stated that his client was waiving the rest of his PX.
The judge, after verifying with defendant Peseta that he understood how the waiving of the PX affected his rights to a probable cause hearing announced that his case is now bound over to High Court.