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Man convicted of stealing laptop — court orders ‘proof’ it was returned to owner

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 29-year-old man convicted of stealing a laptop from a Tafeta home asked the court for a second chance so he can serve his church, and care for his parents and sisters.

Talaleu Vainiu, who remains in custody unable to secure a $10,000 bond was initially charged with stealing and second degree burglary, both felonies. However, under a plea agreement with the government, Vainiu pled guilty to stealing. The remaining charge was dismissed. Vainiu admits that on Feb 21, 2019 he stole a laptop from a home in Tafeta and later sold it to another person. Vainiu appeared in High Court last week for sentencing, where he apologized and said he’s truly remorseful for what he did. “I promise I will never appear in this court again,” Vainiu said.

Defense attorney Mike White said his client takes full responsibility for his actions and asked that Vainiu’s request - probation without additional jail time - be granted.

Prosecutor Lowe echoed the defense submission, and asked the court to sentence Vainiu to probation for 5 years, without additional jail time.

The court told White that according to the Pre Sentence Report (PSR) Vainiu did not accept responsibility for what happened. In fact, Vainiu did not agree that he broke into a home and stole a laptop. White argued that Vainiu admitted taking the laptop, but denied entering the house.

Lowe said that according to Vainiu’s statement to police, he found the laptop outside of the house inside a blue bag. He then gave the laptop to another person to sell. When the court asked about the laptop, Lowe said it was recovered by police and returned to the owner.

Both attorneys were informed that Probation is asking for restitution. Lowe said the laptop is the only evidence that was recovered by police during their investigation; however, if restitution is based on other items that were stolen, that would be appropriate.

Vainiu was sentenced to 5 years in jail. Execution of sentence is suspended and he is placed on probation for 5 years under certain conditions. He is to serve 20 months at the TCF without release. Execution of detention is as follows: after serving 10 months, Vainiu will be released and given 90 days to find a job. If he fails to do so, he will be re-arrested and returned to TCF to serve the remainder of detention, which is 10 months.

The court made it clear that they will not order restitution, pursuant to the government’s recommendation that the only evidence in the case was the laptop, and it has already been returned to the owner.

The court told the prosecutor that there is a difference between his account and what the owner told Probation. According to the owner, police took the laptop and were keeping it until the case is over. For this reason, the court ordered the government to produce a receipt signed by the owner to the court, to prove that she got her laptop back.