DEFENDANTS IN AMERICAN SAMOA FOOD STAMP SCANDAL BEGIN JAIL TERMS

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (January 23, 2001 - PIDP/CPIS)---Five of the defendants in the food stamp forgery and theft case were sentenced Monday morning by the High Court and turned themselves in at 4:00 p.m. the same day, as instructed by the court, to start serving their jail time.

The five are former employees of the Food Stamp Program, which is funded by the U.S. government and administered by the local government’s Department of Human and Social Services.

Trials for the defendants were completed last November. They all were charges with numerous counts of forgery and stealing, but some of the charges were dropped. However, the charges not dropped were still felony charges and the defendants were sentenced to between 12 months to 18 months in jail.

Mrs. Aigasalemalama Petaia, a church minister's wife, was sentenced to 28 months in jail, 12 of which must be served. The other 16 months have been suspended. She will also be on probation for five years. She must pay restitution of $1,600 and a fine of $1,000.

She was originally charged with 32 counts of forgery and stealing but following the trial, 12 counts of forgery and stealing were dropped.

Ms. Lolomi Aumua was sentenced to 28 months in jail, 18 of which must be served while the last 10 months are suspended. She also will be on probation for five years and must pay restitution of $1,701 and a fine of $1,500.

Following her trial, Aumua was found guilty of 12 counts each of forgery and embezzlement and not guilty of four counts each of forgery and embezzlement.

Mrs. Temukisa Feiliuai was sentenced to 28 months in jail, 18 of which must be served with the last 10 months suspended. She also will be on probation for five years. She must pay restitution of $1,775 and a fine of $1,500.

Ms. Fepuleai was found guilty of 16 counts each of forgery and embezzlement.

Ms. Salamina Tiumalu was sentenced to 15 months in jail, none of it suspended. She will also be on probation for five years. She must pay restitution of $1,775 and a fine of $1,500.

Ms. Tiumalu was found guilty of one count each of forgery and stealing and not guilty of one count of forgery.

Mr. Iakopo Meleisea was sentenced to 28 months in jail, 12 of which must be served while the other 16 months have been suspended. He will be on probation for five years. He must pay restitution of $1,053 and a fine of $1,000.

Following his trial, Mr. Meleisea was found not guilty on four counts of forgery and 10 counts of embezzlement, but was found guilty of seven counts each of forgery and embezzlement.

Forgery and embezzlement and stealing are all class C felonies that are punishable by up to seven years imprisonment.

Each of the defendants has been given three years to pay off restitution and fines. However, if the amounts are paid in full in the next 60 days, each of the defendants can be release from jail and start serving probation of five years.

Associate Chief Justice Lyle Richmond told the packed courtroom that each of the defendants can only blame themselves for the problems they are now encountering.

"They are government workers who stole from the government. In the face of temptation, they decided to take advantage of the situation. This is the flaw in their characters," said Judge Richmond.

"Government corruption cannot be tolerated," the judge said. "That is the message we are sending out today, that you will suffer the consequences of your actions."

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