TRIAL OF AMERICAN SAMOA LT. GOVERNOR GETS UNDERWAY

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Background on the government’s case against Sunia

By John Enright PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Jan. 13, 2010) - WASHINGTON D.C. - The trial of Lt. Gov. Faoa Aitofele Sunia and Sen. Tulifua Tini Lam Yuen on charges of fraud, bribery and obstruction finally got under way on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C., with the selection of jurors (see separate story). Members of the general public may be excused if details of the case escape them. The acts and events leading up to the trial extend back over the past decade.

The bulk of the five-count indictment against the alleged conspirators involves the theft of federal Dept. of Education grant funds through procurement fraud. The alleged fraud involved the letting of contracts for the construction of school book shelves and library furniture for the DOE. Two fellow co-conspirators have already pled guilty to charges against them and have long since served their time in federal penitentiaries.

While the trial promises to be an interesting duel of legal maneuvers, its extended prelude has already supplied moments of local drama. Below is a skeletal chronology of the central events leading up to the indictments and trial.

The English statesman William Gladstone once opined that, "Justice delayed is justice denied." It remains for the jury to decide for whom in this case it was delayed.

Case Chronology:

2000 through early 2004

Period during which federal indictment alleges the criminal acts occurred.

2003

August -- US Dept. of Education Office of Inspector General commences an investigation into fraud, waste and abuse involving federal grant funds issued to ASG DOE.

August-September -- ASG Senate Select Committee holds hearings investigating CPO Tafua Fa’au Seumanatafa and DOE Dr. Sili Sataua for questionable DOE purchase practices.

Sept. 29 -- Seumanutafa arrested on local warrant, following investigation by the government’s Task Force on White Collar Crime and Public Corruption.

December -- Sataua resigns as DOE Director.

2004

January -- US Dept. of Interior Office of Inspector General (DOI-OIG) commences an investigation into fraud, waste and abuse involving federal grant funds.

May-June -- Seumanutafa enters a guilty plea at the federal court in Honolulu to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud against the U.S. Government and later also pleads guilty to one count of stealing under a plea agreement with local prosecutors.

October -- Sen. Tulifua Tini Lam Yuen submits to voluntary interview with DOI-OIG and FBI

December -- Sataua indicted in federal district court in Honolulu for conspiracy to rig federal contracts.

2005

January -- Sataua pleads guilty in federal district court in Honolulu to one count of conspiring to commit bribery and fraud.

March -- A surprise task force of federal investigators from DOI, DOE, and Homeland Security, along with armed FBI agents execute three search warrants at the EOB, occupying the offices of the Treasurer, Attorney General, and Lt. Gov. Sunia for ten hours, removing many files.

April -- Lt. Gov. Sunia submits to a voluntary interview with Dept. of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General and FBI.

October -- Seumanutafa and Sataua sentenced in federal court in Honolulu: Seumanutafa receives eight months and Sataua 30 months incarceration. Their plea agreements stipulate that they will cooperate fully with federal investigators and prosecutors.

2007

September -- Lt. Gov. Faoa Aitofele Sunia and Sen. Tulifua Tini Lam Yuen are arrested on fraud, bribery and obstruction charges based on a six count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. Convicted coconspirators Sataua and Seumanutafa will supply, under their federal plea agreements, testimony for the prosecution. Faoa is taken by FBI agents from Pago Pago to Honolulu for his arrest and arraignment. Tulifua is arrested and arraigned in Los Angeles. Both are released on US$50,000 unsecured bonds, with travel restricted to American Samoa, Honolulu and Washington D.C., where they will stand trial in that federal district court.

The trial was originally scheduled for January 2009, but was then postponed to June, then to November, then to January 13, 2010, as both the defense teams for Faoa and Tulifua and the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division prosecutors filed and counter-filed a flurry of motions, counter-motions, briefs, findings, exhibits, appeals, requests, and protective orders.

2009

August -- The federal court in Washington, D.C., in response to defense motions dismisses in part Counts Two through Four and dismisses in entirety Counts Five and Six of the original DOJ indictment.

September -- The DOJ files a superseding indictment, issued by a new Washington, D.C. Grand Jury. The five Counts of the new indictment are: conspiracy, fraud, bribery, and two separate Counts of obstruction, one against Faoa and one against Tulifua.

November -- US District Court Judge Reggie Walton again grants the defendants’ motion for partial dismissal of Count One, Conspiracy, of the superseding indictment.

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