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Probable cause found in drug case against Vaitogi man

American Samoa District Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The preliminary examination (PX) for a man accused of unlawful possession of drugs was yesterday morning, with District Court Judge Elvis P. Patea finding probable cause to bind the case against Alesana Tipi, a.k.a Sulu over to the High Court, despite strong opposition from the defense team, claiming that no drugs were found in Tipi’s possession.

Patea however pointed out that it is clear from the evidence that he was the one who handed the small stamp-sized baggie containing meth to a Confidential Informant (CI).

Tipi, who is out on a $5,000 surety bond is charged with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine) with intent to distribute; and one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine.

Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn, while private attorney Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei is representing Tipi.

Yesterday, the government called one witness, Det. Tavake Foma’i, the lead investigator.

Foma’i said that in the beginning of this year, the DPS Vice & Narcotics Unit received numerous intel regarding a male by the name of “SULU” selling meth from his Vaitogi home.

SULU was later identified as Sulufaiga Paeai, an alias for Alesana Tipi, the defendant.

Between April 21 and May 10, 2019, Foma’i and Det. Justin Thomsen conducted a controlled buy using a CI in an effort to find proof that Tipi is involved in selling drugs from his home in Vaitogi, located on the road to Logotala Hill, the area also known as “Le Filifili”.

Foma’i testified that the CI they used for the controlled buy that day, is the one who provides police with information regarding people selling drugs in the territory.

When asked whether he received any training on how to conduct an investigation regarding drugs, and how to identify illegal drugs including meth, Foma’i said no; however he noted Thomsen, his supervisor, trained him on the job.

On the day of the controlled buy, Foma’i, along with Thomsen, asked the CI to make a phone call to Tipi to ask if he can buy $30 worth of meth from him.

According to Foma’i, the conversation was on speaker so both he and Thomsen, along with the CI, could listen in.

When Tipi answered the call, the CI asked to buy $30 worth of meth and Tipi agreed, saying they could meet at Le Filifili. Tipi also told the CI that he’s at Logotala Hill, and he needed to go down to his house to reload.

Before the CI went out for the controlled buy, Foma’i said they conducted a search of his body and vehicle, for drugs or contraband. Nothing was found and the CI was then given $30, which was already marked and photographed.

Foma’i and Thomsen were in a parked private vehicle not far from where Tipi told the CI they could meet.

Foma’i said they observed a truck pull up next to the area where the CI’s vehicle was parked. He then saw a male — later identified as Tipi — exit his vehicle and walk towards the CI’s vehicle. Tipi gave the CI a small stamp-sized baggie in exchange for cash.

The CI then left the area and went back to a spot where he met up with police, and handed them a small stamp-sized baggie containing a white crystalline substance, which later tested positive for meth.

Another search of the CI’s body and vehicle was carried out and no illegal drugs or contraband were found.

On cross-examination, Uiagalelei asked the witness why he asked the CI to be part of a controlled buy for his client. Foma’i said they had received from several sources a lot of info claiming that Tipi is selling drugs from his home in Vaitogi. Some of those sources were people who bought drugs from Tipi.

When Uiagalelei asked the witness if he actually saw Tipi hand over the baggie containing meth to the CI, the witness replied, yes.

“So, who is the name of your CI?” Uiagalelei asked the witness.

Dunn objected and told the court the Rules are clear, the name of the CI should not be revealed. Patea agreed and told the defense attorney that the court doesn’t want to know the CI’s identity.

“This is a probable cause hearing. You can argue that motion in High Court,” Patea told Uiagalelei.

When Uiagalelei asked Foma’i whether they searched his client’s home for drugs after the controlled buy, Foma’i replied, yes. According to Foma’i, after the controlled buy, a search warrant for Tipi’s home was issued and during the search, drugs were found.

Patea interrupted and told Uiagalelei that the search of his client’s home is not before the court. He said the charges are based on the controlled buy, not the search.

Tipi is scheduled to appear in High Court tomorrow for arraignment.