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Gov’t slaps Peseta with two charges — one misdemeanor, one felony

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Charges may be filed against two more in Immigration Office debacle

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The government alleges in its criminal case against Chief Immigration Officer (CIO) Peseta Dennis Fuimaono that it was the good work of two Immigration officers (IO) at the wharf, that prevented the victims (a couple that was sponsored by the Governor’s Chief of Staff Fiu Saelua’s sister and living with her in Leone) from being forcibly deported from American Samoa on the afternoon of Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016.

[Part 1 of this story can be found in yesterday’s Samoa News edition]

When the two IOs (who were instructed to pick up the couple from Leone and escort them to the town area) and the couple arrived at the EOB on the day in question, the cell phone of the same IO who had been in contact with Peseta throughout that day rang again. The IO answered and said in Samoan, “Chief, we’re down here.” Following a brief pause, the same IO said, “Okay, Chief.”

Upon arrival at the EOB, the two IOs and the couple stayed in the vehicle and not long afterwards, a third unnamed Immigration Officer entered the vehicle. The couple was told that they had to go to another office at the main dock in Fagatogo to meet up with the Boss and their sponsor. En route, one IO whispered to the other, “The Chief said to just drop them off (referring to the couple) to another IO stationed at the wharf.”

Instead of going to the main dock, however, the two IOs and the couple went to the wharf in Fagatogo. They arrived sometime between 2:30-3:30p.m. The female victim said she got suspicious because she knew Immigration did not have an office there and the boat to Upolu would be leaving soon.

At the wharf, the female victim saw an IO by the name of S.S. and asked him if she could use his phone. The female victim contacted the woman who was looking after her children in Leone and told her the situation. Shortly thereafter, another IO by the name of J.L. arrived at the wharf and asked what was going on. IO S.S. told IO J.L. that it appeared the couple was being deported that day.

IO J.L. told the IO who had kept in contact with Peseta that morning that there are policies in place. A person is to be deported 10 days from the time they are served a letter. According to the government’s case, it was IO S.S. who prevented the deportation, citing that procedures were not followed, the couple did not have their passports, they did not have tickets, and their child was being left behind.

The IO who had been in contact with Peseta made a phone call and was overheard by IO S.S. saying in Samoan, “They won’t let them board ... What do you want us to do?” IO S.S. stopped the deportation while IO J.L. transported the couple to the EOB to find out what was going on.

They arrived at the EOB and — other than one family member for the couple — no one was around. IO J.L. left the couple with their family member who was present.

The government alleges that later that same day, Peseta called Fiu — again — and told him that the couple could not leave because they didn’t have their passports.

Two weeks later on Dec. 12, 2019, Victims Advocate, Ipu Lefiti visited the house in Leone where the couple lived and met with them. During the meeting, the matter regarding the alleged sexual harassment and sexual abuse that transpired in the Fiu residence was discussed, along with the attempted deportation by Peseta of the couple on Dec. 1st.

On Dec. 15th, Ipu Lefiti, accompanied by the couple, went to the police station and officially filed a complaint with the Criminal Investigations Division (CID). Afterwards, they proceeded to the Legal Aid Office which, at that time, generated a letter to the Attorney General’s Office telling the government to cease any attempts to deport the couple.

Investigators were able to question Deputy Chief Immigration Officer, Fagamalama Fualaau, and three other senior Immigration Officers regarding the matter — all of them told investigators that when anyone in the Immigration Office uses the word, “Chief” it is in reference to Chief Immigration Officer (CIO), Peseta, the defendant.

When asked about the illegal course of conduct by the two IOs in the alleged attempted illegal deportation of the couple by Peseta, Fualaau told investigators that she knows the two IOs very well, and they know the law and procedures, And for them to do what they did, must have been under orders from “someone above”.

An Immigration Investigation Supervisor echoed Fualaau’s statement to investigators. During the initial investigation, several people were interviewed, including the couple; their sponsor; Fiu’s wife and children; several employees of the Immigration Office; and CIO Peseta.

Arrangements were made to interview Fiu after he agreed to speak to investigators; however, Fiu later called CID detectives and said he had changed his mind because he had already retained an attorney and would not speak to them unless his attorney is present.

The investigation was completed and the report was forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution determination. But due to a conflict of interest, the AG referred the matter to the Independent Prosecutor Appointing Division of the High Court.

On July 3, 2017, the court appointed David Vargas as IP. In August 2017, DPS Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson was informed by the IP of the need for 1-2 cops to assist with further investigations, as the initial investigation appeared to have been done in short form and it was incomplete from a factual and evidentiary standpoint.

But Le’i did not accommodate the IP’s request, citing a shortage of personnel. However, in April 23, 2018, Le’i assigned Major Pierre R.G. Clemens as lead investigator. 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 AS.

The mother of the female victim 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 interfered and allegedly assaulted her.

Peseta, who is released on a $15,000 cash bond is charged with one count of attempt to hinder prosecution, a class A misdemeanor; and one count of attempted kidnapping, a class B felony..

Preliminary hearing is next Friday, Nov. 15th

Samoa News understands that the government is looking to file charges against two other people in this matter.