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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Oct. 20) - Before handing down his sentence against former American Samoa Department Of Education director Dr. Sili Sataua earlier this week, Chief U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra in Honolulu suggested that perhaps the absence of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office here makes certain individuals engage in bad behavior.

He said FBI agents are busy chasing around government corruption in the United States and "they should be because unfortunately it's not just American Samoa, we got plenty of our own homegrown crooks running around."

"But the fact of the matter is...you hear about it a lot in American Samoa because they're kind of a confined environment, and it's very far away and the FBI office here has to deal with that and it's very difficult for them."

He said there is a sense among some of these individuals here that they're out of sight, out of mind and when the FBI comes down, "everybody will clam up."

He said unfortunately, that has been the case in the past, but he also noted that one of the reasons a case was able to be made relating to Sataua is because "some individuals' consciences bothered them so badly that when the FBI came down and talked to them (including American Samoa Government officials), they immediately acknowledged their responsibility."

The judge was quick to note that this doesn't happen all the time and that's why "people engage in this behavior because they think well, it's not like here in Honolulu where some government officials...are thinking twice about doing something because the FBI is three blocks away."

He said for American Samoa, the agents have to fly there every time they have to interview people. "And so I think we need to send an appropriate message."

Ezra said he has sympathy for Sataua's family, but what he did was "so blatant, so corrosive, really, to the interest of justice in American Samoa, that the court must impose a prison sentence that will reflect the seriousness of that behavior and also the court's concern about it."

On top of letters of support from local residents, Sataua's defense attorney Deputy Federal Public Defender Alexander Silvert said the Samoan culture basically put pressure on Sataua as Departmen Of Education director to produce something for the former late Gov. Tauese Sunia's funeral. He said some of the food from the School Lunch Program went to the late governor's funeral.

"I think Your Honor knows what happens in American Samoa, what their culture and customs are, and especially when a governor dies, what happens in American Samoa and the government is well aware of that as well, as the pressure that was put on the Department of Education to provide, and all the departments of the American Samoa government to provide something towards the funeral."

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Crowell told the court that "this case represents the abuse of power" and points out that Sataua had the opportunity as Education director "to do for the people of American Samoa, both the teachers and children...instead chose to use that position to line his own pockets."

Ezra said the fact of the matter is that the defendant gave away money and food that was not his and used a car for personal purposes. He said giving away food from children's program "is just reprehensive."

"But the outright selling of government contracts for kickbacks is just plain, flat out fraud," he continued. "There is absolutely no excuse for it because the money went directly to his pocket."

As a high talking chief, very well educated and of good background, Ezra said Sataua should have known better and what he did is a violation of the law, "violation of his oath of office, violation of his responsibilities to the people of the United States and more immediately to the people of American Samoa."

Ezra gave Sataua 30 months in jail to start January 5, 2005, US$61,000 in restitution and three years supervised release.

October 21, 2005

The Samoa News: http://www.samoanews.com/

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