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Traffic stop for broken plate lights becomes a drug bust for alleged dealer

American Samoa High Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Two men were arrested and charged for unlawful possession of illegal drugs when police pulled over their vehicle in Iliili for broken plate lights.

According to the government’s case, detectives of the DPS Vice and Narcotics Unit were notified about illegal drugs allegedly found by patrolling police officers when they pulled over a vehicle that contained two men, in front of an Asian store in Iliili.

According to the government’s case, the truck did not stop when police instructed the driver to stop, continuing down the road and finally making a sudden turn onto a cement road in Ottoville.

When the officers approached the vehicle, they noticed that there were two males inside the vehicle, who were later identified as Mavaega Mavaega, the driver, and the passenger as Iusitini Leaupepe — both defendants in this matter.

While an officer was speaking with Mavaega, another officer observed from the passenger side what appeared to be a glass pipe on the driver’s right-hand side. And, as the police officer stepped away to issue the citation, another officer standing on the passenger’s side of the vehicle saw Mavaega exit the vehicle and start to reach under his seat. Mavaega was instructed by the officers not to move and he was immediately detained for officers’ safety.

At the same time, Leaupepe was observed as fidgeting while still seated in the vehicle, and he was ordered to step out of the vehicle where he was handcuffed and detained, again for officers’ safety, according to the affidavit.

Both Mavaega and Leaupepe were frisked for weapons and illegal contraband.

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

The police also searched the vehicle and discovered a glass pipe hidden under the driver’s seat with usable amount of white crystalline substance inside. Also discovered were 6 tubes containing a liquid wrapped in a plastic wrapper beneath the passenger seat, and a portable burner (torch).

Both men were then transported to the Tafuna Police Substation (TPS) for questioning, and the vehicle was also impounded.

Along with the two defendant, the investigators interviewed several people about the case including police officers present at the scene. The Patrol officers, who initiated the traffic stopped, provided verbal statement corroborating the statements by the police officers who were also at the scene.

Leaupepe was Mirandized and he waived his right to make a statement regarding the incident.

Mavaega was also Mirandized and was willing to make a statement and answer questions.

According to Mavaega’s statement, Leaupepe asked him to take him to drop off something to a friend in Tafuna.  Mavaega 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.

Afraid of getting in to trouble, Mavaega stated that he stopped the car when they turned on to a cement road in Ottoville because he didn't want something serious to happen to them especially because he was driving the vehicle.

According to Mavaega’s statement, all the items found in the car belonged to Leaupepe including the glass pipe that was found under the driver’s seat where he sat. 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 also informed the investigators that Leaupepe is allegedly involved in selling drugs (methamphetamine and marijuana) and he (Mavaega) often buys such drugs from Leaupepe.

Although he waived his rights and was willing to make a statement, Mavaega did not wish to make a written statement.

Both men were later transported to the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) where they were booked and confined.

Substances found were tested and yielded a positive results for methamphetamine.

Leaupepe (aka "Juice") is also known amongst the Vice and Narcotics Unit. Based on information from a confidential informer (CI) “Juice” is from Iliili and is alleged to be involved in selling drugs. The CI told investigators that “Juice” is selling drugs only at night time.

Both men made their initial appearances in District Court two weeks ago.

Mavaega is charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine while Leaupepe is charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine and one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, both felonies, punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than five years nor more than twenty years and a fine of not less of not more than $20,000, or both.

Mavaega’s bail is set at $5,000, while Leaupepe’s bail is set at $25,000.


Both defendants appeared before Associate Justice Fiti Sunia last week for arraignment where they both entered not guilty pleas.

Pretrial conferences for each defendant is now set for next month.

During Leaupepe’s arraignment’s hearing, Sunia modified a condition of his bond set by Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea and changed it from a surety bond to a cash bond.

Sunia informed Leaupepe’s defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender, Rob McNeill to inform his client that “cash bond” means  no cars, no land, no home, “only cash”.