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Second defendant in Pago burglary case bound over to High Court on single count

American Samoa High Court building
Three of four felony counts dropped for insufficient evidence

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The case against the second defendant in the Pago burglary case has bound over to the High Court with a single felony count of receiving stolen property, when Judge Elvis P. Patea dismissed the first three felonies charges during a preliminary hearing this week.

Defendant, Anderson Ta’ala Jr, also know as A.J made his initial appearance before Chief Justice Michael Kruse yesterday. His pretrial conference is now scheduled for Dec. 20, 2019.

Prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Jason Mitchell, while Assistant Public Defender Bob Stuart is representing the defendant.

Ta’ala Jr was initially charged with two counts of stealing; one count of 2nd degree burglary, and receiving stolen property, all class C felonies, however, after his PX this week, Judge Patea dismissed two counts of stealing and the 2nd degree charge of burglary, and bound over the single count of receiving stolen property to the High Court.

During the PX this week, the government called one witness, Police Det. Emma Tiatia, who led the investigation of this case.

According to Tiatia, a  Pago Pago family reported their home as burglarized by unknown people while they were in Apia for vacation in July of this year.

The victim told police that she and her family returned on Aug. 18th, from a three-week vacation in Apia to find that the front door of their home had been broken and several personal items were missing.

The missing items were 3 laptops; miscellaneous electric tools; an Amazon tablet; a pair of gold earrings; gold rings; a brand new sewing machine; two pairs of Nike sandals; a 22-caliber rifle; a portable vacuum; a stand-up vacuum; two fine mats; a weed whacker; a pair of Vans; and a samurai sword.

While Tiatia and other officers were at the victim’s home on the night of Aug.18, to collect evidence, a male, also from Pago Pago, came forward and provided information that helped investigators.

According to the witness, while he was at a laundromat in Pago, a man by the name of Satele approached him and asked if he wanted to buy a laptop for $40.  Satele also offered to sell him 3 more laptops for $100 each. The witness told officers that he declined the offer.

A week later, the victim, along with another person, went to police and told them they believe another male is also involved, selling the stolen items on a Facebook site called, “American Samoa Dealz and Stealz”, a community marketplace to buy and sell items in the two Samoas.

The victim took screenshots from the online site and sent it over to police, showing “for sale” posts of items believed to have been stolen during the burglary. Another Facebook image the victim sent to police also showed Satele holding a 22. caliber rifle, believed to be the same as the one taken during  the burglary.

When questioned by police regarding the alleged burglary, Satele provided to police the name of people allegedly involved, and one of them was Ta’ala Jr.

According to Tiatia, Satele told investigators that he gave items to his best friend, Ta’ala Jr to sell online and to other acquaintances. Satele also identified Ta’ala Jr as one of the robbers.

When questioned by Tiatia, Ta’ala Jr stated that over the course of several days in August 2019, Satele brought to him items he wanted sold. Ta’ala Jr told police he was not aware the items Satele gave him to sell online were stolen.

According to Ta’ala Jr, Satele did not have a Facebook account, and that’s why he needed Ta’ala’s help to sell some items online. Ta’ala Jr sold the property and split the proceeds 50-50 with Satele.

When asked about the .22 caliber rifle, Ta’ala Jr told police that the picture of Satele with a .22 caliber rifle was taken on or about August 6, 2019 in Satele’s room at his parent’s house.

Two weeks after the first interview with Ta’ala Jr, police called him in for a second interview regarding the stolen items he was selling on American Dealz and Stealz, using his Facebook page named Anderson Ta’ala Jr.

Ta’ala Jr, during the second interview, told police that it was one night in August of this year that he received a call from Satele, who said he had some stuff for Ta’ala Jr to sell. Ta’ala then drove to Satele’s home in Pago Pago, parking in front of the victim’s house.

(The victim was later identified as Satele’s aunty.)

At this time, Satele loaded a brand new sewing machine still in box and a bag with a laptop into his truck. Ta’ala Jr told police he saw Satele carry the sewing machine box from the victim’s house, not from Satele’s house.

All the items Ta’ala Jr sold on Facebook were offered at $150 maximum. The laptops Ta’ala Jr sold were for $500 or more given the condition they were in; however the items were sold far below their fair value.

Ta’ala Jr sold the new Brother sewing machine on the Facebook page American Samoa Dealz and Stealz for $60 with the remark, “Still in box ... Never been used, selling for a friend.” According to the government, Amazon lists the current price for this sewing machine at $125.00.

Ta’ala Jr explained he and Satele had been great friends for at least 2 years now. Both are former security guards at the LBJ Hospital in Faga’alu. According to Ta’ala Jr, the friendship includes the pair sharing and smoking “meth” together whenever either one of them has money or drugs.

Ta’ala Jr also stated that he knew Satele’s aunty (the victim) would never just give Satele the items Satele took from the victim’s home.

After Satele’s arrest on Sept. 10, 2019, Ta’ala Jr was called back into the Central Police Station for questions regarding the missing rifle. Ta’ala Jr stated he knew Satele took the rifle to “Le Aute” where he traded the weapon for a $50 bag of methamphetamine. Ta’ala Jr said he and Satele smoked the drugs at his house in Faga’alu.

The day after Ta’ala Jr’s interview, his Facebook page disappeared, however, his Facebook page reappeared a few days later but under a different name.

According to the victim’s statement to police at the beginning of this month, before her family left for the trip to Apia, she frequently saw Ta’ala Jr sitting at night in a blue double cab Nissan truck parked right in front of their house — surveilling it until daylight. On some occasions, the victim told police Satele would join Ta’ala Jr in the truck.

 Since the  family returned from Apia, and the incident reported, Ta’ala Jr has not returned to surveil their house, she noted.

In delivering his decision, Patea said that based on the evidence presented by the government, the court feels that there was sufficient evidence to find probable cause for the crime of receiving stolen property, however, there was not sufficient evidence to find probable cause for the first three charges including two counts of stealing and one count of 2nd degree burglary

Therefore, the court dismissed two counts of stealing and one count of 2nd degree burglary.