JOEITA, JOITA, JOELITA — would the real overstayer please stand up
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Chief Justice Michael Kruse did not rest last week until the issue was resolved regarding the two separate reports the court had received from the local Immigration Office pertaining to an overstayer who apparently had two different sponsors — and whose name was spelled three different ways, one way by the court and AG’s office, and two different ways by the Immigration Office.
The case of Joeita Fa’aaliga — an overstayer who is serving a 34-year sentence at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) was called again in High Court last Friday, because Kruse wanted to discuss more on the “collateral issues”.
Assistant attorney general Robert Morris appeared for the government, while deputy public defender Michael White represented the defendant, who was in court. Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale and Chief Immigration Officer (CIO) Peseta Dennis Fuimaono were also present pursuant to a subpoena from the court.
When the matter was called, Kruse ordered the Chief Probation Officer (CPO) Malcolm Polu to take the stand and recap the case for the court.
At the end of the recap (see at bottom of story), Polu told the court that the Immigration paperwork had discrepancies — including two different sponsors according to the information received from the Office of Immigration. In addition, Immigration Investigating Division supervisor, Puni Paelo had testified that after further research, he found that the court had mistyped the name for the defendant and that was the reason there was a discrepancy in the name of the sponsor that was provided to the court by the Office of Immigration.
When asked which name he submitted to Immigration, the CPO told the court that the name he submitted to immigration was the name the defendant provided during his initial appearance — ‘JOEITA FA’AALIGA’. The CPO further told the court that the two names Immigration provided were, “JOITA FA’AALIGA” and “JOELITA FA’AALIGA”.
“That means Immigration provided two names while the court had a different name,” the CPO told the court.
Kruse thanked the CPO for recapping the matter for the court, saying that the reason why the court wanted to discuss this issue more was because the court was receiving conflicting information about who Fa’aaliga’s real sponsor is.
Kruse then turned to the prosecutor and told him that he had ordered the CIO to bring Fa’aaliga’s file to the court.
Morris immediately responded to the court saying that during the meeting for this matter the CIO did bring the file with him but the court did not have an opportunity to review it.
“Did you bring the file containing the original forms for the defendant as the court told you during our last meeting?” Kruse asked Peseta after he was sworn in. Peseta responded that he did bring the file with him.
“Does it explain why there are two different sponsors for this defendant?” Kruse asked Peseta. Peseta said no.
“So the other two reports from your office showing two different names for the defendant, is that fake information?” Kruse wanted to know.
Peseta responded, “No your honor. ” Kruse then asked Peseta to explain.
According to Peseta, the name provided by the Chief Probation Officer was just a different spelling.
“When we initially researched that name, we did not find any records or application for an entry permit,” Peseta explained.
“But they were still generating different reports for the court?” Kruse asked. Peseta responded, “Ah, according to our investigator, what they found was not the defendant.”
Kruse asked again, “Did the court provide fake information in the first two reports?”
Peseta’s response was, “I believe it was the misspelling your honor. This subpoena I received is misspelled as well.” Peseta lifted up the copy of the subpoena in front of him while sitting in the witness chair.
“What is misspelled?” Kruse asked and the volume of his voice started to rise. Peseta said the defendant’s name on the top of the subpoena is spelled “JOEITA”, but at the bottom it is spelled “JOITA”.
“So what do you think?” Kruse asked. Peseta said “It was just a misspelling your honor.”
Kruse told Peseta that the spelling on the defendant’s criminal file was the spelling that was given to them by the Attorney General.
“So why do we have reports with misspelling?” Kruse wanted to know. Peseta told Kruse he could not answer that question.
“But you signed one”, Kruse fired back. Peseta’s response was, “It was the one with the JOITA — the correct spelling I signed.”
Kruse said that the court’s concern with this matter was that the defendant was ordered to go back to Samoa. The question in mind is, how is he supposed to go back? Peseta immediately responded, saying that they will look for the sponsor.
“Who is the sponsor?” Kruse asked. Peseta responded, “A person by the name of Pene A. Lauoletolo.”
“I think I recall you saying she’s gone,” Kruse told Peseta. Peseta said, “We visited her home and we were told that she was off island at the time, but she would be back.”
Kruse looked at Peseta for few seconds before asking him another question.
“Did you know that records contained in this file are confidential?” Kruse said, holding up the file containing the defendant’s record and showing it to Peseta. Peseta responded, “Yes your honor.”
“And you know that this file should not be given to the public or for any publicity purposes?” Kruse asked Peseta. Peseta responded, “Yes your honor”.
“But why then was this file given out to the public? ”Kruse asked. Peseta had no answer.
Kruse shook his head while looking at Peseta for few seconds, before he ordered him to step down from the witness stand.
He then thanked Talaueaga who was present during the whole proceeding for taking his time to be in court. Kruse then called Talauega to meet with him and his associate Judges in chamber to discuss an important issue regarding this matter.
Samoa News understands that the meeting was about how Samoa News got a copy of the defendant’s immigration file a picture of which was published in the newspaper last month.
Accompanying Kruse on the bench in this matter were Chief Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr, and Associate Judges Fa’amausili Pomele, Muasau Tasina Tofili and Tunupopo Faleafaga.
CPO’S RECAP FOR THE COURT
The CPO told the court that on June 21, 2013, Fa’aaliga was convicted of first-degree burglary and second-degree burglary — both felonies, and he was ordered by the court to serve a 40-month detention, as a condition of a 7-year probated sentence.
While serving his detention, the government later discovered evidence of a prior burglary involving the defendant, resulting in the defendant subsequently being charged for it on March 08, 2014.
In this second case, Fa’aaliga was convicted of felony stealing, and was ordered to serve 28 months, as a condition of a 7-year probated sentence. The 28 months was to be served consecutively with his 40-month sentence.
And, then in 2016, Fa’aaliga was charged in two separate incidents while he was serving time in jail.
Court records show that the defendant escaped from jail on June 30, 2016 and made his way over to the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA) main office in Tafuna at night, where he took a woman’s purse while she was sitting inside her vehicle. In this case, Fa’aaliga was convicted of escape from confinement and was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, a straight sentence.
The second 2016 case occurred on June 19, where he broke into an Asian Store and stole $1,500.
In this case, the defendant was convicted of felony stealing and was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment, a straight sentence.
The defendant’s 12-year straight sentence from the two crimes he committed in 2016 were to be served consecutively with his 2013 sentence, from his first burglary case.
“During these proceedings, the court discovered during a motion to revoke his probation in his first two cases back in 2013 and 2014, that the Immigration paper work had discrepancies,” the CPO said.
The court then set a hearing date and the supervisor for the Immigration Investigating Division, Puni Paelo took the stand and testified that after further research, he found that the court had mistyped the name for the defendant and that was the reason there was a discrepancy in the name of the sponsor that was provided to the court by the Office of Immigration.