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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Mar. 5) - A Samoan man accused of smuggling illegal aliens, who are citizens of Samoa, into the United States has plead "not guilty" to the charges. His trial is set for next month at the federal court in Honolulu.

The trial for Malieo Tafua, aka, Malieo Masaniai, was originally scheduled for last December. The defendant was released on a US$10,000 unsecured bond and restricted to living with a relative in Hawai΄i.

However, the latest court filing says the trial is now set for April 3rd before Chief U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor.

The continuance of the trial was necessary because time will be required for defense preparation to review and investigate the statements of witnesses," said Gillmor in a recent court decision.

Sources in Honolulu told Samoa News over the weekend that "potential witnesses" in the case are all Samoans.

A federal grand jury indictment handed down last year charged Tafua, 62, with three counts each of "alien smuggling" and "alien harboring" that allegedly occurred between February 10, 2001 and April 30, 2002.

Under the alien smuggling charges, the indictment alleges that Tafua "knowingly, and in reckless disregard of the fact" assisted three aliens, all Samoan nationals to unlawfully enter or reside in the U.S. "for the purpose of being employed," and did encourage and entice the three aliens to enter and reside in the U.S. with the intent to violate federal immigration laws.

Tafua "acted for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain," the indictment alleges.

For the harboring charges, the indictment alleges that Tafua "concealed, harbored and shielded" the three Samoan nationals "from detection, in any place, for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain."

The three Samoans are identified in the indictment with initials only and are all male. The whereabouts of these three Samoans are unknown.

Although he was born in "Western Samoa" in 1944, Tafua is a naturalized U.S. citizen with a U.S. passport living in Laie, Hawai΄i, according to court documents.

Efforts to reach both defense attorney and prosecutors for comments have been unsuccessful.

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