Trial for former Retirement Fund exec director Luatua set for next week
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Judge Elvis P. Patea has denied a motion filed by Assistant Attorney General Robert Morrison to continue the jury trial of former Executive Director of the American Samoa Government's Employees' Retirement Fund, Luatua Filisouaiga Ta’afua.
Trial will move forward as scheduled, next week.
Luatua, who is out on bond, was hit with 20 charges in April 2016 for allegedly misappropriating more than $100,000 of Retirement Fund money, while he was the Fund's executive director.
Luatua, along with his two defense attorneys, Gwen Tauiliili-Langkilde and co-counsel David Vargas, appeared in High Court yesterday morning.
When the case was called, Patea acknowledged receiving a copy of the government's motion — which was filed in court last Thursday, Jan. 31 — and also a copy of the defense's response, asking that the trial move forward or otherwise, dismiss the case.
Morrison told the court that when the case was first filed, the government had two main witnesses, however, one of those witnesses passed away last year.
The primary witness now, is still on island; but she is dealing with multiple health problems that require her to travel off island, later this month, for treatment.
Morrison told the court that he spoke to the primary witness last week, and she informed him that she is unable to testify — at this time — due to her condition, but she can do so after her treatment.
The witness will be back on island Mar. 11, 2019, the court was told.
The prosecutor said that after reviewing the defense’s response to the motion, it appears that the government is being blamed for dragging the case, with motions for a continuance. He said the government was ready when the case was first set for trial last year, however, it was the defense that asked for a continuance.
He also disputed the defense's claim that the reason the trial was continued last year to this year was because the government did not turn over all the discovery the defense needed.
He said all the discovery was turned over to the defense, on time, last year.
Patea asked Morrison why he waited so long to file his motion — last week — when the trial was scheduled since September of last year.
Morrison responded that he just received an email from the primary witness last week, explaining her medical condition and the need for her to travel off island for treatment later this month.
When Patea asked the prosecutor how many times he's contacted the witness since September 2018, Morrison said he couldn't recall but added that if the court wants to know more, they can call the witness to the stand to testify.
Patea fired back with a raised voice, “I’m not going to force anybody to the stand. It’s your case, and it’s your call.”
Tauiliili-Langkilde told the court that they haven’t received anything to confirm the government’s statements. She said despite efforts to get a written medical report or even an affidavit from a doctor, the government has provided nothing.
The defense attorney said that during a meeting between the witness and attorneys from both sides last October, she asked the witness if she can testify during trial next week and the witness said yes.
Tauiliili-Langkilde argued that the government’s motion is late because trial is set for next week and the defense is ready to move forward. She said not only is the government’s motion an inconvenience to the court, it also violates her client’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.
Tauiliili-Langkilde said the case against her client will be 3 years old by April of this year, and her client is ready to face this, because it’s been hanging over him.
She then asked the court to either dismiss the case or move forward with trial next week.
“Let's go forward with the jury selection on Monday. See you all next week,” Patea said.
Aside from the DPS investigation, a forensic auditor from Utah carried out a separate probe and wrote the audit report that found evidence that Luatua allegedly misappropriated about $112,000 that belonged to the Fund for his personal use. When the case surfaced in the beginning of 2015, Luatua was placed on leave with pay for several months and then in January 2016, the Board moved to terminate him.
Fanene Morris Scanlan was the chairman of the ASGERF board when Luatua was executive director. Fanene passed away last year. It was Fanene who initiated the probe to look at claims that Luatua approved travel and per diem payments for himself and other members of the staff, and issued checks to a janitorial company that he was affiliated with.