COURT BARS BINGO AT AMERICAN SAMOA CLUBHOUSE

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Feb. 28) - The VA clubhouse in Tafuna will no longer be a place for bingo games.

[PIR editor’s note: Tafuna is a town on the southern coast of Tutuila, the main island in American Samoa.]

Last Friday, the High Court granted a permanent injunction banning directors and officers of the organization running the clubhouse as well as those who operated bingo games there and all others from using the clubhouse for illegal and/or unauthorized bingo games.

The court's order, outlined in a 24-page decision, was based on a suit filed by members of the Samoan Veterans Association (SVA) against the organization's officers and directors, and Samoana Fellowship Inc. (SFI), an organization that operated bingo games at the clubhouse since 1990.

SFI's principal owners are former House Speaker Matagi M. McMoore and his wife Purinisese.

The plaintiffs sought the court to declare that SFI was conducting illegal bingo games at the clubhouse, that SVA officers and directors violated their fiduciary duties by allowing SFI exclusive access to the clubhouse to conduct bingo games and that SFI owes SVA about US$561,600 for use of the club house for the past 12 years.

Plaintiffs also asked for a preliminary and a permanent injunction, enjoining defendants from using the clubhouse for bingo activities and a temporary order allowing plaintiffs to take over management of the SVA until a new election could be held.

In February last year, the court issued an order granting the motion for a preliminary injunction in which the court held that the 1990 agreement allowing SFI to use the clubhouse for bingo violated the lease's requirement that the premises be used and maintained "exclusively" for recreational use of SVA members.

The court also held the bingo operations, which were conducted six nights a week, week-in and week-out, were illegal. Additionally, the court held that SVA had also violated the law by leasing their property to SFI for illegal gambling.

The case went to trial last month and both sides presented witnesses and evidence as well as written final arguments.

In its ruling, the court granted plaintiff's request for permanent injunction and prohibited the defendants and all others from using the clubhouse "for illegal and/or unauthorized bingo operations."

The court also advised the defendants that they will be held in contempt for any future attempt to hold bingo games at the clubhouse.

In a footnote, the authors of the decision, Chief Justice F. Michael Kruse and Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr. wrote, "We note our concern with the McMoores' continued illegal bingo efforts in the territory. They are fast becoming infamous for their moneymaking bingo operations."

The judges further said that there is "nothing confusing about our statue outlawing bingo except under certain circumstances, yet we continue to see the McMoores in court."

The court also noted that it had "some serious misgiving about SFI's claim to being a non-profit organization, as it has lost its tax exemption status."

While the court has granted a permanent injunction, it has denied the plaintiffs' request for money damages for unpaid rent, for damages from defendant's alleged breech of fiduciary duty, and attorney fees.

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