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Man who lost federal job after meth bust enters into plea agreement

Associate Justice Fiti Sunia
Judge Sunia calls ‘ice’ American Samoa’s own virus

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — While all department leaders and employees of the American Samoa Government (ASG) are working together to wipe the coronavirus from the territory, Associate Justice Fiti Sunia said that all department leaders of ASG must also work together to wipe out “a virus of our own”, which affects many lives for many years.

“We have a virus of our own and it’s been here for many years. That virus is called ice,” Sunia said during the sentencing of man convicted of violating local drug laws.

Sanelivi Iopu, who has been in custody since his arrest last year appeared in High Court last week for sentencing.
Iopu was initially charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine, a felony. But under a plea agreement, accepted by the government in January of this year, Iopu pled guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a class D felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.

With his guilty plea, Iopu admits that in October of last year, he possessed a glass pipe containing methamphetamine when police searched him during a public peace disturbance case.

When given the chance to address the court, Iopu apologized for his action and begged for a second chance to return home to care for his wife and children. He told the court that the 5 months he spent in jail was a very hard time for him, knowing that he failed to fulfill his duty as a father to his children and a husband to his wife.

“Your honors, I’m truly remorseful and I want to go back home to be with my children. I made a bad choice and I don’t want to look back to my old life,” Iopu told the court.

Before defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill asked for a probated sentence for his client, he called Iopu’s wife to the stand.

With her own words, Iopu’s wife told the court that she wanted the court to release her husband so that he can seek employment to provide for their family.

McNeill told the court that his client was a family man who worked very hard to provide for his wife and children. However, he lost his job when he was arrested in this matter. McNeill then asked the court to sentence Iopu to a probated sentence to allow him to go back home and seek gainful employment to provide for his family.

McNeill further told the court that Iopu was caught up by police with a small amount of methamphetamine in his possession.

Prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey echoed the defense’s statement for a probated sentence, saying that the government believes the defendant is truly remorseful for his crime and he is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence.

Garvey also told the court that the defendant has already served 5 and a half months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) while awaiting the outcome of his case.

The court wanted to know if the defendant’s immigration status is still valid, and who is the defendant’s sponsor. According to McNeill, Iopu’s immigration is still current and his wife is his sponsor.

Before the court delivered its decision, Sunia talked about the problem of illegal drugs in the territory and how its affects many young lives and also families.
The court stated that according to the Pre Sentence Report (PSR), the defendant was a hard working man who worked at a federal job in the territory. (Samoa News understands that Iopu was employed by the National Park of American Samoa before he was arrested by police in this case.)

The court stated that not everyone here in the territory has the opportunity to work at a federal office. While Iopu was given that opportunity to work at a federal job, he took advantage of that opportunity by being involved in illegal drugs.

According to the court, the defendant was living a good life with his wife and children, enjoying every good thing they have in life until he was involved in illegal drugs with the wrong friends.

The defendant’s involvement with drugs not only tore his happy family apart but also lost him his job where he had a golden opportunity as a federal employee.

The court stated that there were many other defendants like Iopu who come before the court for unlawful possession of illegal drugs. However, after considering the defendant’s case and other cases, the court feels that Iopu’s case is different from all other cases because he was living a useful life until he was arrested in this case.

“Your actions caused you your good family and your job,” Sunia told Iopu.

“You need to put a stop to this behavior before it gets worse and you will not want to see the bad outcome and the consequences of your actions.”

The court told Iopu that all 5 defendants including him that came before the court for their hearings that day are all drug related.

Iopu was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and $2,000 fine. Execution of sentence is suspended and Iopu is placed on probation for the period of 5 years subject to several conditions.

He must serve a period of detention of 20 months without release, credited for over 5 months he served during his pretrial detention. All but 14 months will be stayed until further order of the court, and the defendant is ordered to serve only 6 months of his detention.

Upon release from custody, the court ordered Iopu to remain law abiding and remain clean from alcohol and illegal drugs.

“Iopu, this particular panel wants to invest in people’s lives. We believe that you’re one  (who can learn from this) but once you fail we can change our minds,” the court told Iopu.

Chief Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr and Associate Judge Tunupopo Alalafaga assisted Sunia on the bench.