Once again: expired license tag, expired driver’s license, car impounded and Aisa allegedly found
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 47-year-old man from Samoa who is on probation after being convicted of felony drug possession is now back in custody after police allegedly discovered a quantity of illegal drugs in his possession during a traffic stop three weeks ago.
Talaoleolataga Avei is charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine and one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, both felonies which carry an imprisonment sentence between 5 to 10 years, a fine between $5,000 and $20,000, or both; along with one count of resisting arrest, a class D felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
Avei made his initial appearance in District Court two weeks ago where his bail is a $10,000 surety bond.
During Avei’s initial appearance, his defense attorney, Bob Stuart informed the court that his client wished to exercise his constitutional rights to a preliminary examination (PX).
The government’s case against Avei stems from an incident that occurred on Apr. 29th about 7:20p.m when two police officers patrolling the Tafuna public highway spotted a pickup truck heading westbound with an expired license tag.
Officers radioed the Dispatcher for a quick check on the status of the license plate, with the Dispatcher stating that it had expired two years ago.
Officers pulled over the vehicle and approached the driver to explain the purpose of the stop. Two male individuals were inside the vehicle when officers pulled it over. The driver, who was later identified as Avei, the defendant in this matter, and a man sitting in the passenger’s seat. He was Alosio Vineula, who is on probation for a drug conviction.
Officers told the defendant his vehicle’s license tag expired two years ago, but Avei argued that he had renewed his vehicle registration in July of last year. While officers were speaking with the defendant, one officer saw the passenger trying to reach into his right pocket.
Officers immediately instructed Vineula to exit the vehicle and he complied politely. The passenger was then placed in police temporary custody for safety reasons. Police placed handcuffs on the passenger and ordered him to sit down on the ground.
When officers instructed the defendant to turn off his engine and step outside, the defendant resisted and started to move his vehicle forward. A few moments later, the defendant agreed to comply with police. As it turned out the defendant did not possess a valid driver’s license — it also had expired two years ago.
The two officers then impounded the vehicle and transported it to TPS, where one of the officers started issuing citations to the defendant for the violations and later informed the defendant that he would need to conduct an inventory of the vehicle because it would be impounded, but released back after proper paperwork was completed.
Before officers conducted the inventory search to the vehicle, both the defendant and the passenger were patted-down. Nothing was found on the passenger, but officers discovered a medium sized baggie in the defendant’s right pocket. Inside the baggie were 5 small stamped-sized baggies containing white crystalline substance.
During the inventory search of the vehicle — with the defendant present, police observed a black pouch underneath the driver’s seat. Inside the black pouch were 4 cut-up straws containing white crystalline substance.
Immediately after the white crystalline substance was allegedly discovered on the defendant and inside his vehicle, a police lieutenant contacted the DPS Vice and Narcotic and K9 Unit for assistance to further the investigation. The search of the vehicle was stopped at that time and the defendant was taken back inside the TPS to await their arrival.
Two police lieutenants from the Vice and Narcotic Unit (VNU) arrived to investigate and take over the alleged drug case.
The white crystalline substance that was inside the plastic baggie tested positive for methamphetamine.
The defendant and the passenger were placed in two different rooms for questioning. According to the passenger, he had known Avei for over a year now and they are best friends. Around 5p.m before they were pulled over by police, they went to a place called Le Filifili to buy drugs for Avei.
The passenger confirmed to police that he waited inside the vehicle while Avei went to meet a man who gave him (Avei) drugs worth $150. The passenger said they used a glass pipe to smoke meth before they headed back on the road.
According to the passenger’s statement, Avei used to sell drugs for another man, but ever since Avei was arrested in a prior drug case, his drug business seemed to have slowed down a little bit.
The passenger was later released pending further investigation.
The defendant was informed of his constitutional rights, which he acknowledged understanding and he said he wished to make a verbal statement about the incident.
According to Avei’s statement to police, the methamphetamine found in his possession and inside his vehicle does not belong to him. He said that when he got inside his vehicle, he witnessed the medium baggie inside the black pouch. He removed the medium baggie containing methamphetamine and put it inside his pocket before he placed the black pouch under the driver’s seat.
Avei confirmed to police that he went with his friend (passenger) to buy drugs from another man at the Le Filifili. The drugs were for his own personal use and not for distribution.
In August of last year, the court sentenced Avei to probation, with jail time, after he was convicted of unlawful possession of methamphetamine.
Avei was ordered to serve 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) as one of the conditions of a 5-year probation term, for which he was to serve only 7 months, which included the 5 months he had already served in pretrial confinement. The remaining 13 months were stayed as long as he was in compliance with conditions of his probation.
Avei was banned from entering any bars, taverns, or businesses that sell alcohol, and he was not to congregate with people who are doing drugs or consuming alcohol.