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Meth user gets 5-yr probation, court orders his sponsor to pay $2K fine

American Samoa High Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Associate Justice Fiti Sunia has ordered the sponsor of a man from Samoa convicted for violating local drug laws to step up and fulfill his responsibility under Immigration local laws by paying the defendant’s $2,000 fine ordered by the Court as a condition of his 5-year probation.

Maevaga Maevaga, one of the two men arrested and charged for unlawful possession of illegal drugs when police pulled over their vehicle in Iliili for broken plate lights last year, appeared in High Court last week for sentencing. He was represented by Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Kristine Soule.

Maevaga was initially charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine (meth), an unclassified felony punishable by a term of imprisonment from 5-10 years, a fine of up to $20,000, or both. However, under a plea agreement with the government, Maevaga pled guilty to the amended lesser charge of unlawful possession, a class D felony, punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to five years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

With his guilty plea, Maevaga admits that on Oct. 7, 2020 he had in his possession meth when police pulled over a vehicle he was traveling in with another man, Iusitini Leaupepe (co-defendant).

The defense attorney asked the court to sentence his client to probation and be credited for the 7 months he spent in custody while awaiting the outcome of his case. Anderson informed the court that his client is a first offender who was found with drugs used for his own personal use.

He further stated that his client is truly remorseful for his action and he took full responsibility for his action and wanted to return to his family to continue to serve the community.

When given the chance to address the court, Maevaga apologized to the court for his action and begged for a second chance to return home to be with his family and do something good for his life. He promised the court that if given him a second chance to provide for his family and make changes in his life, he would prove to the court that he can change.

Prosecutor Soule echoed Anderson’s submission for a probated sentencing saying that the defendant is a suitable candidate for a light sentence. She said the defendant is a first offender who assisted investigators during their investigation and was very cooperative with investigators.

The defendant submitted himself for random drug test before he appeared in court for sentencing. The test was administered by a probation officer and the result was negative.

According to the court, Maevaga’s conviction stems from an incident when police officers initiated a traffic stop in front of an Asian store in Iliili for broken  plate lights and later discovered drugs in the defendant’s possession. Maevaga was the driver of the vehicle while his companion, Leaupepe was sitting in the passenger’s seat.

While officers were speaking with Maevaga, another officer observed from the passenger side what appeared to be a glass pipe on the driver’s right hand side. As the officer stepped away to issue the citation, another officer standing on the passenger side of the vehicle saw Maevaga exited the vehicle and started to reach under his seat. Maevaga was instructed by the officer not to move and he was immediately detained for officers’ safety.

At the same time, co-defendant Leaupepe was observed as fidgeting while still seated in the vehicle, and he was ordered to step out of the vehicle, whereby he was handcuffed and detained — again for the officers’ safety.

When Maevaga was patted down, officers discovered a small pouch containing a glass pipe with a quantity of white crystalline substance inside, and a plastic baggie containing 4 empty cut-up straws inside his right back pocket. Officers also discovered a small baggie containing four (4) neon cut up straws all filled with white crystalline substance inside Leaupepe’s front right pocket.

Police searched the vehicle and discovered a glass pipe hidden under the driver’s seat containing white crystalline substance inside. Also discovered were 6 tubes containing a liquid wrapped in a plastic wrapper beneath the passenger seat, and a portable torch.

When questioned by investigators, the defendant Maevaga said that Leaupepe asked him to take him to drop off something to a friend in Tafuna.

He stated that on their way to Tafuna, the police stopped them in front of an Asian store in Iliili, however, Leaupepe told him not to stop the car but continue to drive away from police because he (Leaupepe) had stuff on him, which he did. He finally stopped when he became scared of the situation

He told investigators that the reason Leaupepe told him not to stop the vehicle was because Leaupepe was scared that police would find the drugs in their possession. He further stated to investigators that Leaupepe is allegedly involved in selling drugs and he (Maevaga) often buys drugs from Leaupepe.

Maevaga was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 5 years. Execution of sentence was suspended and Maevaga was placed on probation for 5 years subject to certain conditions.

Maevaga is also ordered to pay a fine of $2,000, and according to the court’s order, the sponsor is responsible for paying the defendant’s fine because that’s his duty under Immigration Laws.

The court pointed out to both parties that the statute is clear. The sponsor has a responsibility under immigration laws to provide care for the person she/he brought into the territory.

Based on information received by the court, the defendant was brought into the territory by his sponsor to work for him (sponsor).

The court explained to the defendant that his case is treated the same as with all other people convicted for violating local drug laws. The court further reminded the defendant that he came into the territory to work under his sponsor and he must cherish that golden opportunity instead of committing crimes in the territory because there is an available voyage of the Lady Naomi that he can be placed on and sent back from where he came.

Other conditions of probation are for the defendant to visit the Probation office once a month, and refrain from consuming or possessing any alcohol of illegal drugs.

Maevaga was released from custody after he was sentenced by the court.

Co-defendant, Leaupepe’s case is still pending in High Court. He is charged with unlawful possession of meth and one count of unlawful possession of meth with the intent to distribute.