TONGAN LAWMAKER CONVICTED IN UTAH FRAUD

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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Maganti Tonga, Mar. 31) - Tongan Member of Parliament, 'Etuate Lavulavu, was convicted of two counts of illegal use of a birth certificate in the State of Utah District Court, USA, this month.

The Salt Lake Tribune published a story last week with the headline "Tongan official pleads guilty in Utah Scheme", and detailed a decision that was passed by the State of Utah District Court, where State prosecutors said they allowed Lavulavu to plead guilty to the two class B misdemeanor counts.

Questions remain about the fate of the 60 or 70 Tongans who obtained US citizenship under false circumstances as part of a forgery scheme involving Lavulavu and his convicted brother Samuel, and Ana Malia Fuka, a US State employee.

Meanwhile, at home in Tonga, 'Etuate Lavulavu is claiming he was let off by the US Courts. The Tonga Government's newspaper the Kalonikali Tonga of 25 March 2004 reported that 'Etuate Lavulavu said he was set free by the court on all the 11 felonies charges that were brought against him. But Lavulavu, who is hoping to retain his seat in the Tongan Legislature as a People's Representative for Vava'u, made no mention that despite his denial of guilt, he pleaded guilty and now has two class B misdemeanor convictions on his record.

Such convictions would be enough to put a US Congressman out of office, according to The Salt Lake Tribune 's Stephen Hunt.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that in 1997, 'Etuate Lavulavu was charged with 11 felonies alleging that during 1995 and 1996 he and his brother, with help from a state employee, obtained Utah birth certificates for Tongans who were actually born in Tonga.

A warrant was issued for Lavulavu's arrest in 1997, but he was not apprehended until October 2003, when he flew to Salt Lake City to visit relatives.

State prosecutors said they allowed Lavulavu to plead guilty to two class B misdemeanor counts of illegal use of a birth certificate because of the difficulty in obtaining witnesses after so many years.

"We feel it was a good resolution, given the age of the case," Assistant Utah Attorney General Patrick Nolan told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Defense attorney Keith Hamilton said Lavulavu, who was elected to the Tongan Parliament in 2000, denies being a part of the scheme.

Lavulavu, 45, entered so-called Alford pleas, meaning he did not acknowledge guilt but conceded there was a substantial risk of conviction if the case went to trial.

Earlier this month, 3rd District Judge William Barrett closed the case by assessing Lavulavu $5,000 in prosecution costs and granting credit for 21 days he spent in jail following his arrest.

Delayed birth certificates are issued for people who claim they were born in the United States, but whose births were not recorded because, for instance, they were born at home instead of in a hospital.

Prosecutors claim Lavulavu, a former Orem resident, and his older brother, Samuel Lavulavu, falsified church and school records, as well as personal affidavits, as proof that applicants were born in Utah.

The phony records were given to Ana Malia Fuka, who issued the birth certificates from her office at the state Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Hamilton said his client admits that in January 1996 his notary stamp and "apparent signature" were affixed to one man's birth certificate application.

Samuel Lavulavu, who claims he used his brother's notary stamp without his knowledge, pleaded guilty in 1998 to forgery and two other felonies and served four months in jail. Fuka pleaded guilty to forgery and was sentenced in 1997 to probation, community service and counselling.

Questions remain about the fate of the 60 or 70 Tongans who obtained citizenship under false circumstances as part of the scheme. Prosecutor Nolan said he does not believe there was much follow-up by federal immigration authorities at the time charges were filed. "This was before 9-11," Nolan said. "In the mid-90s, federal agencies were not nearly as concerned as they would be today."

Tongan Member of Parliament, 'Etuate Lavulavu, was convicted of two counts of illegal use of a birth certificate in the State of Utah District Court, USA, this month.

The Salt Lake Tribune published a story last week with the headline "Tongan official pleads guilty in Utah Scheme", and detailed a decision that was passed by the State of Utah District Court, where State prosecutors said they allowed Lavulavu to plead guilty to the two class B misdemeanor counts.

Questions remain about the fate of the 60 or 70 Tongans who obtained US citizenship under false circumstances as part of a forgery scheme involving Lavulavu and his convicted brother Samuel, and Ana Malia Fuka, a US State employee.

Meanwhile, at home in Tonga, 'Etuate Lavulavu is claiming he was let off by the US Courts. The Tonga Government's newspaper the Kalonikali Tonga of 25 March 2004 reported that 'Etuate Lavulavu said he was set free by the court on all the 11 felonies charges that were brought against him. But Lavulavu, who is hoping to retain his seat in the Tongan Legislature as a People's Representative for Vava'u, made no mention that despite his denial of guilt, he pleaded guilty and now has two class B misdemeanor convictions on his record.

Such convictions would be enough to put a US Congressman out of office, according to The Salt Lake Tribune 's Stephen Hunt.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that in 1997, 'Etuate Lavulavu was charged with 11 felonies alleging that during 1995 and 1996 he and his brother, with help from a state employee, obtained Utah birth certificates for Tongans who were actually born in Tonga.

A warrant was issued for Lavulavu's arrest in 1997, but he was not apprehended until October 2003, when he flew to Salt Lake City to visit relatives.

State prosecutors said they allowed Lavulavu to plead guilty to two class B misdemeanor counts of illegal use of a birth certificate because of the difficulty in obtaining witnesses after so many years.

"We feel it was a good resolution, given the age of the case," Assistant Utah Attorney General Patrick Nolan told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Defense attorney Keith Hamilton said Lavulavu, who was elected to the Tongan Parliament in 2000, denies being a part of the scheme.

Lavulavu, 45, entered so-called Alford pleas, meaning he did not acknowledge guilt but conceded there was a substantial risk of conviction if the case went to trial.

Earlier this month, 3rd District Judge William Barrett closed the case by assessing Lavulavu $5,000 in prosecution costs and granting credit for 21 days he spent in jail following his arrest.

 

Delayed birth certificates are issued for people who claim they were born in the United States, but whose births were not recorded because, for instance, they were born at home instead of in a hospital.

Prosecutors claim Lavulavu, a former Orem resident, and his older brother, Samuel Lavulavu, falsified church and school records, as well as personal affidavits, as proof that applicants were born in Utah.

The phony records were given to Ana Malia Fuka, who issued the birth certificates from her office at the state Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Hamilton said his client admits that in January 1996 his notary stamp and "apparent signature" were affixed to one man's birth certificate application.

Samuel Lavulavu, who claims he used his brother's notary stamp without his knowledge, pleaded guilty in 1998 to forgery and two other felonies and served four months in jail. Fuka pleaded guilty to forgery and was sentenced in 1997 to probation, community service and counselling.

Questions remain about the fate of the 60 or 70 Tongans who obtained citizenship under false circumstances as part of the scheme. Prosecutor Nolan said he does not believe there was much follow-up by federal immigration authorities at the time charges were filed. "This was before 9-11," Nolan said. "In the mid-90s, federal agencies were not nearly as concerned as they would be today."

March 31, 2004

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