Former cops charged in TCF drug ring all have different stories
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The three former prison guards being charged for their alleged involvement in a drug ring at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) remain in custody where they once worked, with bail set at $20,000 each.
They are: Jimmy Stanley, Leasi Neueli, and Faavae Papatu. Their two co-defendants, brothers Vincent and Spencer Toeava, are also behind bars, with bail set at $20,000 each, although Vincent is charged in a separate matter — the DHSS food stamp fraud case — for which bail for him is set at $450,000
According to the government's case, the five defendants are charged for their role in an illegal operation that allegedly involved drugs coming in and out of the territory's only prison.
(See yesterday's Samoa News edition for details).
The investigation was launched after cops were called to the TCF last October regarding "two small clear plastic cut-up straws" containing a white crystalline substance that were allegedly found in a jar of hair gel that was passed from inmate Vincent Toeava to female inmate, Meriko Lomu.
(Lomu pled guilty to drug possession with intent to distribute — both marijuana and methamphetamine — in two separate cases last week in High Court. She is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 8th.)
Following numerous interviews with witnesses — which included corrections officers and other inmates at the TCF — police arrested three of their own.
According to the criminal complaint, Officer Papatu informed investigators that when he was first assigned to the TCF, he heard certain inmates talking about Vincent Toeava supplying drugs to other inmates. He said he took it upon himself to investigate and "he was able to get 2 marijuana cigarettes from Toeava (Vincent), which he later threw away."
When asked if any of his superiors or co-workers were aware of his investigation, he said no.
Papatu was initially represented by the Public Defender's Office. But last week, private attorney Togiola Tulafono took over. During court proceedings that day, Togiola made a motion to release Papatu on his own recognizance, under his supervision. Togiola said his client is a chief in the village, and if released, he will ensure that Papatu makes all his court appearances.
District Court Judge Fiti Sunia is taking the motion under advisement. A status hearing is set for Jan. 14th. Meanwhile, Papatu remains in custody.
When questioned by investigators, Officer Stanley denied ever having any involvement with Vincent. He allegedly told police that the reason he called Vincent's phone on the night of the incident, "was because he was returning a call" that was made to him earlier that evening.
(According to the criminal complaint, one of the three smart phones discovered during a shakedown of Vincent's cell is believed to belong to Vincent. During the shakedown, the phone rang and when one of the DPS detectives picked up, the male voice on the other end of the line said, "Vince, it's Jimmy. It's Stanley."
During his initial appearance last Friday, Jan. 4, Stanley's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson asked the court for a reduction in bail, saying his client has strong ties to the community, and there is no physical evidence tying him to the case.
Prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey disagreed, saying the defendant poses a danger to society and he is a flight risk.
District Court Judge Fiti Sunia denied the motion, saying the set amount for bail is "reasonable" for this case.
Stanley is scheduled for a preliminary examination on Jan. 23.
According to the criminal complaint, in September 2018, Vincent allegedly asked Officer Neueli if he could meet a man on the west side to pick something up for him. Neueli allegedly agreed and when he arrived, he was met by a "skinny male" with an envelope, who told him that it was for Vincent.
Neueli is alleged to have delivered the envelope directly to Vincent in his cell.
Samoa News understands that the following week, Vincent requested that Neueli drop off an envelope to a girl at the same location as the week before. Neueli allegedly agreed. The unsealed envelope allegedly contained a large sum of money.
According to the criminal complaint, Neueli allegedly dropped off the envelope, at said location; in return, he was given an envelope — which was light in weight — to take back to Vincent. The envelopes retrieved from the drop-off and pick-up point "were not full, but they were sealed and folded in half."
It is alleged that Neueli was doing favors for Vincent, using his own private vehicle for "drop offs" and "pick ups" during working hours.
Samoa News understands that Neueli would buy food requested by Vincent during his runs to the west side location, and the envelopes he was asked to pick up were placed inside the shopping box given to Vincent inside his cell at the TCF.
Neueli's next court appearance — his preliminary examination — is scheduled for Jan. 24.
According to the government's case, on Oct. 17, 2018, police were called to the TCF after a female guard discovered contraband in a jar of hair gel being passed from Vincent to inmate Meriko Lomu. A shakedown of Toeava's cell allegedly uncovered 3 smart phones, a wallet containing baggies with a white crystalline substance that appeared to be meth, and 7 plastic straws that were "visually identical" to the ones found in the jar of hair gel.
Also found were "cigarettes of green leafy substances" and $354 cash.
According to the criminal complaint, Vincent gave the jar to a male guard who then passed it along to a female co-worker who was guarding the female cells that night. Neither of the two knew there was contraband in the jar, and neither is being charged in this case.
According to what investigators were told, a delivery of "ice" (about 4.536 grams) — already packaged — and about an ounce of weed, were delivered to Toeava the day before.
(Although identified in the criminal complaint, the name of Toeava's alleged supplier — as well as the identity of others allegedly involved — are being withheld by Samoa News until formal charges against them — if any — are filed).
According to Lomu's statement to police, on Oct. 13, 2018, during a family visitation, she asked Toeava if he had any drugs for her and he allegedly said yes. Four days later, Lomu allegedly gave one of the guards $30 to give Toeava, saying she was paying her boyfriend's debt to Toeava. Later that same day, a jar of hair gel was delivered to her but when she poured the contents into a foam cup to look for illegal drugs, she found nothing.
This is because the female guard — after being tipped off by another inmate — searched the jar, found two straws inside, and took possession of them.
(See yesterday’s Samoa News edition for more details of the case).