Immigration status of defendant in copper wire theft case unresolved
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The case of one of the four defendants in the copper wire theft ring is now continued again — this time to June 17, 2021 after the High Court granted the defense attorney’s request for more time so that the defendant and her family can resolve the issue of her illegal immigration status.
The defendant, Theresa Samata Ala, who has been in custody since her arrest last year appeared in High Court last week for sentencing.
The defendant was initially charged with one count of stealing, a class C felony punishable by for up to seven years, a $5,000 fine, or pursuant to A.S.C.A 46.2101, a fine equal to twice the amount of gain from the commission of said crime, up to maximum of $20,000, or both such fine and imprisonment.
However, under a plea agreement with the government accepted by the court, the defendant changed her plea to the amended charge of aiding and abetting another person to commit the crime of stealing, a class D felony, punishable by terms of imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
By her guilty plea, Samata-Ala admits that between January to February 2020, she assisted another person to steal copper wire and sell it to another man to get money to buy drugs.
When given a chance to speak, Samata Ala told the court that she’s truly remorseful for what she did and she wants to go home to be with her family. She stated that the 10 months she spent in prison taught her that hanging out with the wrong people will have a negative impact on her life.
Both parties informed the court that they are still trying to negotiate the issue of sponsorship. Defendant’s immigration ID expired in 2019.
Associate Justice Fiti Sunia informed both parties that the court can’t go forward with sentencing unless the issue of immigration status for the defendant is resolved.
Defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson asked the court to sentence his client to a term of probation without an additional period of detention.
Prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Kristie Soule echoed Anderson’s submission for a probated sentence, however, she pointed out that the defendant is an illegal alien whose immigration status expired before she was arrested in May of last year.
Soule stated that if the court allows the defendant to be released, she asks for her to be released to the custody of immigration due to her illegal status.
She also stated that the defendant’s husband, who was just released from the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) on March 3rd is willing to renew the defendant’s immigration status.
Anderson told the court that based on the information he has received, it appears that the immigration office is depending on the court’s decision before they move on with their decision pertaining to his client’s immigration status. He told the court that the defense wants to know if Immigration is going to renew his client’s immigration status or not.
He further pointed out that right now, all parties are in a circle. Immigration and the sponsor has their different view of the matter, while the court and the parties, including his client have a different view. As a result, all parties have different information regarding his client’s immigration status.
Anderson told the court that the only thing the defense’s side is interested in is to know whether immigration is going to renew his client’s immigration status or not.
Sunia said that the court only releases someone from custody if that person’s papers are in the process before the Immigration Board. The court can also release someone if parties are working on renewing that person’s immigration status.
This defendant’s case is different. Nothing from either party confirms that there is any petition before the Immigration Board to renew her immigration status.
From the court’s perspective, based on immigration laws, the court will not release anyone from custody if that person is an illegal alien. The court further stated that if defense is asking the court for a probated sentence, that’s not going to happen based on the defendant’s immigration status. However, if the government asks to order the defendant to depart the island, the court will review it.
Sunia informed both parties that the court doesn’t have any information regarding a petition before the Immigration Board to renew the defendant’s immigration status. The only information before the court is the defendant’s conviction and illegal immigration status.
After hearing the court’s thoughts about this case, Anderson immediately requested another continuance to allow his client to make further communication with her sponsor (her husband) to renew her immigration status.
The prosecutor did not oppose the motion and the court granted the request. Defendant is scheduled to appear in court on June 17 for sentencing.
Samata-Ala, along with three co-defendants including Fetaia’i Tuigamala; Lologa Tuilagi Toilolo and Tevita Ati were arrested as a result of an ongoing investigation conducted by a special DPS Task Force into a string of burglary cases in Leone and other villages involving the theft of Triplex copper electricity wires owned by the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA).
Samata-Ala was informed by her three co-defendants about the copper wire operation to get money for meth. Samata-Ala agreed to participate and told her co-defendants that “she was up for it.”
The three men and their female friend, Samata-Ala then went to an abandoned home in Vaitogi where F.L cut the copper electricity wire from the outside panel of the house and later cut the other end from the utility pole. They then immediately left the area to avoid being seen and sold the 25 ft long stolen copper wire for $35. The money was used to buy methamphetamine.