Drug dealer will serve over six years in prison
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 45-year-old man has been ordered to serve over 6 years at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) for a drug conviction. Lavea’i Filipo appeared before the High Court last week for sentencing. Prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey, while Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill represented Filipo, who was charged in two separate cases.
In the first case, he was charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute; and one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, both felonies.
In the second case, he was facing one count of unlawful possession of meth.
Under a global plea agreement with the government, accepted by the court, Filipo, in the first case, pled guilty to the amended count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine. He also agreed to plead guilty to the amended count of unlawful possession of meth in the second case.
Both are class D felonies punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000 or both, for each charge.
With his guilty pleas, Filipo admits that on July 10, 2018, he had on him a glass pipe containing meth. He further admits that while released on bond during his first case, he was arrested on Dec. 21, 2018 for possession of a glass pipe containing meth.
After the global plea agreement was accepted by the court in November of last year, the court allowed Filipo to be released on a $18,000 surety bond to await sentencing. But Filipo was taken to the TCF in December of last year after he missed a court hearing.
He was scheduled to appear for sentencing on Dec. 15 and when he didn’t show up, the court issued a bench warrant for his arrest. Filipo was arrested the following day and remained at the TCF without bond to await sentencing.
When given the chance to speak, Filipo apologized and asked for a second chance to return home so he can care for his family, especially his young son. He said he had no intention of breaking the law, but he made some bad decisions that were fueled by the devil.
McNeill asked the court to grant his client a second chance, saying Filipo is a family man who served in the military for many years, and he returned to American Samoa to serve his family, something he does with love and compassion.
According to McNeill, things changed when Filipo got into drugs, which caused problems for him and his family. McNeill asked for probation, so his client can get help to address his mental illness.
McNeill was told that the court has deep concerns with Filipo’s behavior. Court files indicate that when Filipo was released on bail in his first case, he went back to the streets and did the same thing — selling drugs to young people
RECAP OF THE FACTS
Filipo was first charged after cops found drugs and paraphernalia, including $714 cash in his vehicle. Cops also found a cell phone Filipo used to contact people who wanted to buy drugs from him. According to the government, messages contained inside the phone confirmed Filipo’s involvement in the drug trade.
He was released on a $15,000 cash bond after his initial appearance. Five months later, he was pulled over in Vaitogi for speeding. Four small baggies and 2 glass pipes containing a white substance that later tested positive for meth were found in Filipo's pants pocket during a body search, in addition to several empty baggies and $690 cash.
For that incident, Filipo was charged with unlawful possession of meth with the intent to distribute; and unlawful possession of meth. He was later released on a $4,000 surety bond.
The court said the defendant continued to be released on bond, and no one bothered to ask the court for bond forfeiture. For the first case, Filipo was sentenced to 5 years in jail. Execution of sentence is suspended and he’s placed on probation for 5 years subject to several conditions. He is to serve 20 months at the TCF without any release, except by order of the court.
For the second case, Filipo was sentenced to 5 years in jail, a straight sentence.
According to the court, the sentences will run consecutively, meaning Filipo will serve over 6 years at the TCF.
ISSUE OF BAIL
The court reminded McNeill that when Filipo was initially released on bond, he committed another crime. Subsequently, he was released again, on a $4,000 surety bond, and he failed to appear in court. “This is the second case where a defendant was released on bond but goes around and commits another crime,” the court told both parties.
The court was referring to the case of Sonny Mu Kelemete, who is serving a 40-month sentence for a drug conviction. Kelemete was released on a $5,000 surety bond after he was charged with unlawful possession of meth in July 2017. Two months later, his vehicle was pulled over for a loud muffler, and cops discovered 9 small stamp-sized baggies containing meth, intended for distribution.
The court is yet to announce a hearing date for the issue of bail.