FBI ARREST AMERICAN SAMOA SENATOR IN CONSPIRACY

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Sept. 11) - In addition to Lt. Gov. Ipulasi Aitofele Sunia, the U.S. Justice Department has charged Sen. Tulifua Tini Lam Yuen with federal crimes.

Both are able to be released on an unsecured bond.

Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher with DOJ's [Department of Justice] Criminal Division said Ipulasi and Tulifua have been arrested on fraud, bribery and obstruction charges based on a six count indictment handed down last Thursday by a federal grand jury in Washington and unsealed yesterday.

FBI spokesman Brandon Simpson said via telephone from Honolulu that Ipulasi had his initial appearance yesterday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Kobayashi.

He is to be released on a $50,000 unsecured bond and allowed to return to American Samoa. His travel is restricted to American Samoa, Honolulu and Washington D.C., where he is to appear on Oct. 22, along with Tulifua, said Simpson.

Once in American Samoa, Ipulasi is to turn over his passport to the local FBI office. In their absence, it is to be turned over to the local attorney general's office.

Tulifua turned himself in to the FBI office in Los Angeles yesterday and appeared at the federal central court later in the afternoon. He too is to be released on a $50,000 unsecured bond with travel restricted to American Samoa, Honolulu and Washington D.C.

It is unclear if either has been able to meet the $50,000 unsecured bond for release from federal custody. However, federal Bureau of Prisons website says Ipulasi has been held at the federal detention center in Honolulu.

Governor Togiola called a 4 p.m. cabinet meeting yesterday to brief directors regarding the situation. His office made a formal statement in a press release late last night. (See news release section of PIR.)

Local attorney Roy J.D. Hall Jr. said his client Tulifua is in the U.S. and he (Hall) could not comment on the case at this time.

Responding to media inquiries, attorney Lanny A. Breuer, a partner in the Washington D.C. based law firm of Covington & Burling said Ipulasi is a dedicated individual who, along with his wife founded in the 1990s Samoa Furnishings & Handicrafts, a local company to supply to "American Samoan schoolchildren safe and affordable furniture - furniture of the high quality that the schoolchildren need and deserve."

"Lieutenant Governor Sunia looks forward to the opportunity to demonstrate that Samoan Furnishings & Handicrafts fulfilled each and every school furniture order for a fair price to benefit the American Samoan children and community," he said yesterday from Washington. "He looks forward to continuing his work on behalf of the people of American Samoa, whom he has always served with loyalty and allegiance."

Breuer recalled Ipulasi's service to the people of American Samoa totaling more than 30 years as a public servant as well as being an active member of his church, donating his time and resources, organizing youth activities, and raising funds for the needs of the community.

He said Ipulasi has been a long-standing member of a number of charitable organizations that work to raise funds for the community and improve health care on the island.

"Lieutenant Governor Sunia has dedicated his professional life to public service, working to benefit his community," said Breuer. "He will rely on the support of his family, his church, his faith in God, and his community as he awaits vindication in court."

The indictment charges Lt. Governor Ipulasi and Senator Tulifua with one count of conspiracy; one count of fraud and one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds; and one count each of obstruction of an agency proceeding (USDOE Inspector General investigation). Tulifua is charged with an additional count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Charges against Ipulasi stem from the time he was ASG [American Samoa Government] Treasurer -- from Aug. 2001 until April 2003, when he was confirmed by the Fono as Lt. Governor, replacing then Lt. Gov. Togiola, who became governor following the March 2003 death of Gov. Tauese P.F. Sunia.

Prosecutors allege that the "defendants engaged in a scheme to avoid the competitive bidding process by conspiring to split a large project for furniture construction for the American Samoa school system among companies owned and operated by the defendants and a third company" owned by former chief procurement officer, Tafua Fa'au Seumanutafa.

The defendants also conspired to structure invoices and procurement paperwork to create the false appearance that the projects were dozens of small projects beneath the $10,000 threshold requiring competitive public bidding.

In fact the defendants and their co-conspirator handled shared projects without competitive bidding worth collectively more than $775,000 over the course of approximately three years, prosecutors allege.

The indictment further alleges that the defendants agreed to split the projects with Seumanutafa as a bribe in exchange for his failure to enforce the procurement laws of American Samoa, and that they provided cash gifts and free contracting work to the former Director of the American Samoa DOE Kerisano Sili Sataua, in exchange for his agreement to facilitate the fraudulent scheme.

Sunia and Lam Yuen face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the fraud and bribery charges, and a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy and obstruction charges, the government said.

Sataua has since pled guilty and was sentenced in Oct. 2005 to 30 months in prison, and ordered to pay $61,000 in restitution for his involvement in this fraud and bribery conspiracy. However, Sataua got an early release this year based on a request by the federal government, but details remain sealed per order of the court.

Seumanutafa also pled guilty and was sentenced to 8 months in prison, ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and $80,000 in restitution for his involvement in the conspiracy. He has returned home to American Samoa.

DOJ said that an indictment against Ipulasi and Tulifua is merely an accusation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

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