Alleged drug case involving a Confidential Informant bound over to High Court
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — District Court Judge Elvis P. Patea, during the preliminary examination (PX) of 28-year-old Vine Tiumalu, accused of unlawful possession of drugs, held last week, has found probable cause to bind the case over to the High Court, despite strong opposition from the defense team, claiming that no drugs were found in Tiumalu’s possession.
Patea however pointed out that it is clear from the evidence that he was the one who handed the small stamp-sized baggie containing meth to a Confidential Informant (CI) during an alleged exchange of cash and drugs.
Tiumalu, who is out on a $10,000 surety bond is charged with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine) with intent to distribute; and one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, both felonies.
Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey, while Assistant Public Defender, Bob Stuart is representing Tiumalu.
The government called one witness, Det. Tafaovale, the lead investigator, during the PX.
Tafaovale said that in the beginning of this year, the DPS Vice & Narcotics Unit received intel regarding a male by the name of “Spunk” selling meth from his Tafeta home.
Spunk was later identified as Thomas Tiu, an alias for Viane Tiumalu, the defendant in this case.
Between Dec, 20, 2019 and Feb. 27, 2020, the witness, along with another detective conducted a controlled buy using a CI in an effort to find proof that Tiumalu is involved in selling drugs from his home in Tafeta.
The witness testified that the CI they used for the controlled buy that day is the one who provides police with information regarding people selling drugs in the territory.
When asked whether he received any training on how to conduct an investigation regarding drugs, and how to identify illegal drugs including meth, the witness said no; however he noted that his supervisors who were the senior detectives in the Department of Public Safety (DPS), they trained him on the job.
On the day of the controlled buy, the witness, along with his supervisor, asked the CI to make a phone call to Tiumalu to ask if he could buy $50 worth of meth from him.
According to the government’s witness, the conversation was on speaker so both he and his supervisor, along with the CI, could listen in.
When Tiumalu answered the call, the CI asked to buy $50 worth of meth and Tiumalu agreed, saying they could meet at the same spot where they usually exchange drugs. Tiumalu also told the CI that he’s at his friend’s home, and he needed to go down to his house to reload some stuff for him and other buyers.
Before the CI went out for the controlled buy, the witness said they conducted a search of his body and vehicle, for drugs or contraband. Nothing was found and the CI was then given $50, which was already marked and photographed.
The witness and his supervisor were in a parked private vehicle not far from where Tiumalu told the CI they could meet.
According to the witness, they observed a black truck pull up next to the area where the CI’s vehicle was parked. He then saw a male, later identified as Tiumalu, exit his vehicle and walk towards the CI’s vehicle. Tiumalu gave the CI a small stamp-sized baggie in exchange for cash.
The CI then left the area and went back to a spot where he met up with police, and handed them a small stamp-sized baggie containing a white crystalline substance, which later tested positive for meth.
Another search of the CI’s body and vehicle was carried out and no illegal drugs or contraband were found.
On cross-examination, defense attorney asked the witness why he asked the CI to be part of a controlled buy for his client. The government’s witness said they had received from several sources a lot of info claiming that Tiumalu is selling drugs from his home in Tafeta, and also in the area of Vaitogi and Iliili. Some of those sources were people who bought drugs from Tiumalu.
When Stuart asked the witness if he actually saw Tiumalu hand over the baggie containing meth to the CI, the witness replied, yes.
“So, what is the name of your CI?” Stuart asked the witness.
The government’s attorney objected and told the court the rules are clear, the name of the CI should not be revealed. Patea agreed and told the defense attorney that the court doesn’t want to know the CI’s identity.
“This is a probable cause hearing. You can argue that motion in High Court,” Patea told Stuart.
The defense attorney asked the witness whether they searched his client’s home for drugs after the controlled buy, the witness replied, yes. According to the witness, after the controlled buy, a search warrant for Tiumalu’s home was issued and during the search, drugs were found.
Patea interrupted and told the defense attorney that the search of his client’s home is not before the court. He said the charges are based on the controlled buy, not the search.
Tiumalu entered a not guilty plea to the charges against him when he appeared in High Court this week for his arraignment.
His pretrial conference is now set for May 16th, 2020.
THE FIRST CASE AGAINST TIUMALU
The government has also charged Tiumalo in a separate case with unlawful possession of illegal drugs including methamphetamine and marijuana; and unlawful possession of methamphetamine and marijuana with the intent to distribute. He’s also facing weapons charges.
These charges stem from the incident when cops executed a search warrant on Tiumalu’s residence in Tafeta, following the controlled buy. During the search, according to the government’s case, cops discovered drugs, weapons, paraphernalia and cash.
Tiumalu, along with two co-defendants was arrested during the search and each was charged with violating local drug laws.