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Three former TSM cashiers get huge break from court — the 4th defendant challenging the charges

American Samoa High Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Three of the four women charged with stealing from TSM Mart - their former employer - were given a huge break by the High Court last week, when they were ordered to serve only 6 months of detention.

Kalameli Tauave, Faatamalii Atiae and Alofagia Alofipo, who have remained in custody unable to post a $10,000 bond, appeared before Chief Justice Michael Kruse last Friday for sentencing. (The fourth defendant, Manaia Iopu, who has been released on a $10,000 bond, wants to go to trial).

Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn prosecuted while Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill represented the three defendants.

When given the chance to address the court, each defendant apologized and asked for a second chance to return home to care for their families, especially their kids,

They also apologized to their former employer, TSM Mart, for betraying the faith they put in them by stealing money. All three women told  the court that they are truly remorseful and they promise it will never happen again.

“While in prison, I felt that what I did was wrong. I missed my family especially my young children, and I want to go home to care for them, and to seek gainful employment to pay my fine and restitution,” Tauave told the court.

Defendant Atiae said she needs a second chance so she can go home and start a new chapter in her life. She said she has learned her lesson.

McNeill asked the court for probation for all three defendants, so they can find jobs and pay restitution. “All of my three clients are young mothers who made bad choices in life, and now they realize that the decision they made was wrong. They are truly remorseful and take full responsibility for their actions,” McNeill told the court.

He pointed out that Alofagia was new to the job and was not involved at the beginning of the scheme

Prosecutor Dunn echoed McNeill’s submission that all the three defendants are suitable candidates for a probated sentence. She did ask the court to order all three defendants to pay restitution of $46,278.10 to TSM Mart.

Kruse asked Dunn what she really meant by probation.

“Probation for 7 years or you’re asking for a 28-month detention as a condition of probation. Is that what you’re asking for?” Kruse wanted to know. Dunn said it’s up to the court to decide, as all the government is asking for, is the court to order them to pay restitution.

McNeill interfered and asked the court to suspend the 28-month detention and sentence the defendants to time served while they awaited the outcome of their case.

Kruse smiled and asked McNeill, “So, you’re asking the court to have them go straight back home without considering the other side of this case.”

McNeill said No.

Before delivering his decision, Kruse said something about women who come before the court for stealing.

According to him, when young women like the three defendants are involved in criminal behavior, they are not the only ones involved. Their families, especially their spouses and children also become involved.

“Instead of throwing their attitude to the wind, they throw their young children, their families, along with their reputation to the wind,” Kruse said. According to the court, the offense was revealed when the Operations Supervisor (OS) from TSM Mart balanced Tauave’s cash register at the end of her shift and discovered that two transactions, totaling $928.90, were deleted from the system on May of this year.

The OS told police that he noticed earlier in the day, a couple of huge transactions being served through Tauave’s machine, but was surprised when he balanced the cash register and found that Tauave deleted the transactions.

The OS confronted Tauave in the store, and Tauave admitted to manipulating the cash machine by using the supervisor’s access pin code to delete the two transactions.

There was constant use of the OS’s  access pin code number on Atiae’s cash machine. Atiae memorized the pin code, which she used to delete transactions from her machine before taking cash out for her own personal use. Atiae shared the pin code with Iopu and Tauave.

According to the court, the practice has been ongoing since October 2018. An audit in May 2019 revealed that about $46,278.10 had been stolen from the company through the scam.

Atiae admitted to initiating the scam by obtaining the access pin code and thereafter stealing thousands of dollars from TSM since October 2018, and sharing it with Iopu, Tauave, and Alefosio.

Atiae said that she and her 3 co-defendants, conspired to steal from the company because TSM didn’t pay them enough and didn’t pay them for overtime.

Tauave, Alefosio, and Iopu, in their interviews with police, confirmed Atiae’s statements.

All three defendants were sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. Execution of sentence is suspended and the trio is placed on probation for 7 years, subject to certain conditions. Each is to serve 28 months detention at the TCF. Execution of detention is as follows: For Tauave and Atiae, each will serve the first 6 months, while Alofagia is ordered to serve 5 months. The 6 months for Atiae and Tauave is up on Jan. 2, 2020, while Alofagia’s 5-month detention was up yesterday, Dec. 2nd.

Upon release from detention, all three women are ordered to immediately depart the territory and remain outside of its borders for the duration of probation, which is 7 years. However, this condition is stayed upon order of the court.

Also upon release, each woman is to find a job within the first 90 days of release. If they are unable to do so, they are to report back to the TCF to serve out the remainder of detention.

Each defendant is  to pay restitution of $46,000.

The last condition is that, if anyone of them is subpoenaed to testify during co-defendant Iopu’s case, they have to testify truthfully.