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Chief said to alter files and keep them out of sight

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, America Samoa (Samoa News, Jan. 11, 2009)—A former immigration officer told OTICIDE investigators about inside dealings at the Immigration Office including files that are allegedly kept under lock and key by Chief Immigration Officer Ufuti Fa’afetai Ieremi.

This according to an affidavit in support of the search warrant executed last Thursday on the Immigration Office in Utulei and the Tafuna airport.

As part of her sentence handed down by the High Court in April last year, former immigration officer Eveline Tua’ato was to cooperate with the government in its investigation of schemes inside the immigration office.

(In a twist of fate, Eveline Tua’ato [Tuaato-Puni] was one of the tsunami victims killed in Pago Pago, on Sept. 29. It is unknown at this time what effect her passing will have on the Independent Prosecutor and OTICIDE’S on-going investigation of alleged corruption in the territory’s Immigration Office.)

Chief Justice Michael Kruse, during sentencing, reminded Tuaato that she made a commitment to the government to assist ongoing investigations. Tua’ato was accused of using someone else’s immigration information for two children of a foreign national to obtain proper immigration status so the children could enroll in school.

According to an affidavit—signed by Lt. John Cendrowski of OTICIDE to support the search warrant—Tua’ato on different occasions prior to her release from the Territorial Correctional Facility was cooperative and provided inside information on the workings of the immigration office.

OTICIDE is a bureau of the local Department of Homeland Security.

Investigators learned from Tua’ato that there are immigration files kept in the office of Chief Immigration Officer Ufuti Faafetai Ieremia and possibly at his home, "that were not available for review," according to the affidavit.

Tua’ato states that a person name "Rose", Ufuti and the Immigration Board’s secretary, had kept those files "under lock and seal in cabinets" that were just outside of Ufuti’s office, the affidavit states.

(The affidavit didn’t identify the board secretary or Rose’s last name).

"She told us that alot of those files were of Asian people and that the Chief Immigration Officer frequently had Asian corporation owners visit him at his office behind closed doors," said Cendrowski in the affidavit.

These individuals included Ah Long of F.H.L. Corporation, which is now been reconstituted as KMC Corporation; Dennis Hong from KS Mart; Lidavina Alamani of J.K.L Corporation; the Lee brothers of Gold Conda Corporations, and George Neru, according to the affidavit.

(These are the same companies and individuals also cited elsewhere in the affidavit as being named by Chinese "individuals" who spoke with OTICIDE investigators. Ah Long, the affidavit says, has an outstanding arrest warrant against him.)

"She (Tua’ato) believed that Ufuti would change the status of these individuals from P4— someone who had a professional skill such as a doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc. — to that of P5— domestic help— without the board’s approval and without a board hearing," Cendrowski alleged in the affidavit. "The paperwork would just be changed in file. She knew this because she had seen a file that had P5 after she had reviewed it stating P4."

The affidavit also sought authority to search for any files relating to immigration kept at Ufuti’s home, but the search warrant limited the search to Ufuti’s office at the Immigration Office.

The Immigration Office at the EOB, which was closed on Thursday and Friday, is expected to re-open today.

Local law enforcement officials executing the search warrant on the Immigration Office have raised concerns from local residents, who say that any improprieties on the Immigration Office uncovered from any investigation will again put American Samoa on the radar of the U.S. Congress, which may force the territory to come under the federal immigration system.

American Samoa, which controls its own borders, escaped federal law that placed the immigration system of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands under U.S. control.

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