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By La Poasa

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Sept. 2) - Solomona Fa'amaoni, the ringleader of the LBJ cafeteria food scandal, was sentenced by the High Court yesterday to 28 months in jail for felony stealing.

The detention period is a condition of Fa'amaoni's seven years probation. He is also being ordered to pay a $5,000 fine to the government.

Fa'amaoni was a supervisor at the LBJ's Nutrition Department. He was one of seven employees convicted of taking food items from the hospital's cafeteria starting in December 2005 and continuing up to January 2007.

The items taken included cases of steaks, ham, ground beef, bacon, butter and packages of cheese.

Fa'amaoni had keys to all the refrigerators and freezers at the hospital and his car was used to transport the stolen items out of the hospital.

Yesterday in High Court, Fa'amaoni told Chief Justice F. Michael Kruse and associate judges Sagapolutele and Saole that words cannot express how sorry he is about what had happened. He said he is "so ashamed" of himself.

He also apologized to the government and said he is "deeply deeply sorry" for making a bad judgment.

He then apologized to his mother. In a shaky voice and with tears in his eyes, he told his mother, who was in Court, that she had taught him better and this wasn't the way she had taught him to be. He said he has made some "bad choices" and he is very remorseful.

Fa'amaoni also promised that this is the first and last time he will commit a crime.

Fa'amaoni's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Fred Castro, said this was Fa'amaoni's first offense. He said at the beginning of this case when Fa'amaoni was charged with the crime, he admitted to stealing from his employer.

"He didn't beat around the bush or hide anything. He simply admitted," said Castro.

The defense attorney requested that Court impose a sentence that does not include an incarceration period. He said Fa'amaoni is looking for a job to support his family, who are currently living off relatives.

"I respectfully request the Court to show leniency," Castro said.

Assistant Attorney General Mark Hales said the government will recommend probation as that is what is in their plea agreement with the defendant. However, he added that a condition of the plea agreement, he recommends that the defendant be jailed for a year.

He also said that LBJ attorney Terry Lovelace recommends that restitution be made in the amount of $40,000. Lovelace was at High Court earlier but was not there for the sentencing hearing.

Before handing down the sentence for Fa'amaoni, Kruse said that the defendant is the ringleader in the hospital cafeteria food scandal.

He said the theft of food from the cafeteria occurred over a period of time and the items were either loaded on the defendant's truck or someone else's and taken to Gold Conda Store in Faga'alu in exchange for beer, cigarettes, sodas and chips.

The chief justice said that having heard from both parties and considering what's in the pre-sentence report, the Court sentences Fa'amaoni to seven years in jail. However, the execution of the sentence is suspended and Fa'amaoni is placed on seven years probation.

As a condition of his probation, Fa'amaoni, who has been out on bail pending the outcome of his case, is to serve 28 months in jail. He is not to be released unless by court order or unless it's a medical emergency.

After serving a detention period of six months, Kruse said the Court will consider granting Fa'amaoni work release but that is provided he is gainfully employed.

Fa'amaoni is also to pay a $5,000 fine. After serving his jail sentence, Fa'amaoni must visit his probation officer once a month or more frequently if required.

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