Man tells court, “I made a terrible mistake when I chose to be a drug seller”
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 46-year-old man convicted of unlawful possession of illegal drugs and a firearm was sentenced to serve 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility last week as a condition of his 5 year-probation.
Valaau Fa’aaliga, who has been in custody since his arrest unable to post a $15,000 surety bond, appeared in High Court last week for sentencing.
Fa’aaliga was initially charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute; and unlawful possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, both unclassified felonies. Each count is punishable by not more than 20 years imprisonment and a fine of not more than $20,000 or both.
He was also charged with one count of possession of an unregistered firearm, a class A misdemeanor.
Under a plea agreement with the government, accepted by the court two months ago, Fa’aaliga pled guilty to the amended charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a class D felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both; along with a class A misdemeanor charge of possession of an unregistered firearm.
Fa’aaliga admits that on May 21 of 2018, he unlawful possessed a quantity of methamphetamine and an unregistered firearm inside his vehicle when two police officers stopped him for a traffic violation.
When given the chance to address the court, Fa’aaliga asked for forgiveness saying that the only reason he left his parents and young siblings in Samoa was to seek a better future for his family, especially his wife and young children.
Fa’aaliga spent few minutes telling his life story to the court. He told the court that over the past 13 years while residing in American Samoa, he has worked hard to provide for his family over here along with his parents and siblings in Samoa. He started his employment in American Samoa with a company that unloads fish from fishing vessels. He earned $70 a week, and it was more than enough to provide for his wife and children.
Two years later, he moved to the cannery and worked there as a fish cleaner after he got his first immigration I.D. Things were seemingly going very well in his life until he decided to be his own boss and started working as a mechanic in 2015.
“That’s when my life turned up-side-down when I congregated with friends who deal with drugs. I spent money on drugs instead of my family and I also spent more time with people doing drugs instead of my family,” Fa’aaliga told the court.
“I made a terrible mistake in life when I chose to be a drug seller to earn extra money for me and my family. I was selfish and thought that no one could touch me because I had money, friends — and especially weapons surrounding me. However, after spending 17 months in custody, I realize that the only thing that really matters to me is my family.”
Fa’aaliga told the court that he’s truly remorseful and learned his lesson while living in jail for over a year.
He told the court that he deserves to be punished because he violated laws of the land. However, he begged for a second chance and at the same time promised the court that if he’s given a second chance, he would do his best to prove to the court that he’s a changed man.
The defense attorney asked the court to uphold the Probation Office’s recommendation for a probated sentence for his client, to give him another chance to get his life together and get a job to support his family.
The defense attorney further stated that spending more than 16 months behind bars, Fa’aaliga has learned a lesson, he has realized that prison is not a good place for a man who has a wife and children to take care of, and he needs to move on with his life. He will also attend and complete drug counseling.
The prosecutor supported the defense attorney’s argument, saying that the government believes the defendant is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence, and the court would grant probation and give him time to change his life and address his drug problem.
After hearing the defendant’s plea and the mitigating factors from both parties, a recess was called before the court handed down its sentence.
A recap of the facts of the case was made before sentencing was handed down.
FACTS OF THE CASE
According to the court, charges against Fa’aaliga stem from a traffic stop during the early morning hours of May 21st of 2018, when cops allegedly confiscated from the defendant’s vehicle a weapon (12-gauge shotgun), narcotics and ammunition, according to court documents, which also state that Fa’aaliga’s vehicle was allegedly traveling at an “unknown high rate of speed” and this was the reason why it was stopped by police.
Court documents reveal that defendant’s driver’s license expired three years ago. Fa’aaliga had no form of identification on him when he was pulled over.
Also allegedly discovered inside a backpack was cash totaling $1,158.
A check at DPS Records Office revealed that Fa’aaliga’s name was not on any file for weapons registration.
Fa’aaliga was sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine; however, the execution of the sentence was suspended and the defendant was placed on five years probation on the condition that he serve 20 months at the TCF, not possess any illegal drugs or consume any alcohol, and he is subject to random drug and alcohol testing.
The defendant was credited for the 17 months he served during his pretrial conference, which means, he has 3 more months to serve.
Upon release from detention, Fa’aaliga is ordered to immediately depart the territory and remain outside of its border for the remaining period of his probation. This condition was stayed until further order of the court.
The defendant was also ordered to remain law abiding, seek gainful employment and pay a $2,000 fine within the first one year after he’s released from detention.