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Bail set at $100K while Preliminary Hearing postponed for Luatua

The status hearing on the preliminary examination for former ASG Employees Retirement Fund Executive Director, Luatua Filisouaiga Ta’afua, has been rescheduled for next week Friday, due to medical reasons. Luatua made his initial appearance on Wednesday in the District Court on 20 criminal charges, pleading ‘not guilty’ to four counts of embezzlement, five counts of stealing, three charges of criminal fraud, seven charges of forgery and one count of passing bad checks. However, the Preliminary hearing has been rescheduled as the defendant is in the hospital. During his initial appearance on Wednesday, his attorney Gwen Langkilde requested that the court reduce bail from $100,000 to $50,000 noting that Luatua is not a flight risk. She said her client has strong ties in his village (Ili’ili) and is a leader in his immediate family as well as his communal family. According to Langkilde, the defendant is a lay preacher from the Ili’ili CCCAS. However, Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop Ta’ase asked the court to leave bail as is, given the seriousness of the charges. She pointed out that of the numerous criminal charges, most of them are Class C felonies, with one class D felony, and if convicted he’s looking at 130+ years in jail. Judge Patea denied the request to lower bail, also noting the seriousness of the charges. He said this is a reasonable amount and bail will remain at $100,000. Patea then ordered the defendant to turn in his passport. He also told the defense counsel regarding a surety bond, they will have to submit everything to the Attorney General’s office, and as per instructions from Chief Justice Michael Kruse the court would not sign anything after 4pm or during the weekend. According to Correction Officers, Luatua was released on a surety bond of $100,000 on Thursday. COURT DOCUMENTS — AFFIDAVIT & ARREST WARRENT As of press time, Samoa News has been unable to obtain copies of the arrest warrant and the affidavit, which is normally public information. However, according to a court clerk, the file is “with the judges who are presiding over this matter.” Reaching out to the Attorney General’s office, Samoa News was told that the documents have to come from the court — the court clerk however, said copies should be released by the AG’s office. BACKGROUND In July last year former Retirement Fund Board Chairman Fanene Morris Scanlan indicated in a letter to Luatua that there were questions on the use of the Chairman’s signature rubber stamp on checks which had been issued out of the Administrative Account without the proper authorization. He alleged at the time that checks had been made out to Luatua personally for his travel advances, and in more recent findings payments had been made to unregistered businesses, namely Hardcore Cleaning and Star Co., for services rendered to the Centennial Building. The Chairman stated that it was also discovered that these payments to these vendors were allegedly deposited into the Director’s personal checking account. “This situation raises concern for conflict of interest, ethical questions and abuse of fund,” Fanene said at the time.