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Samoan who pled guilty to false statements on passport application faces sentencing

U.S. Federal District Court House, Honolulu, HI

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A statement filed by the defense for a federal defendant who pled guilty to making a false statement on a U.S. passport application recommends that he be sentenced to one-year probation instead of the 2-years probation recommended in the pre-sentencing report.

The statement, filed last Thursday with the federal court in Honolulu, also revealed that the 66-year old defendant, Vai Salamasina Taula Fetuli — aka, “Vai Doc Taula”, was in fact born in Samoa, and not in the U.S, as Fetuli claimed in his U.S. passport application.

As previously reported by Samoa News, the defendant, pled guilty last September, under a plea agreement with federal prosecutors to making a false statement in an application for a U.S passport at the U.S Post Office in Laie, Hawaii.

Fetuli, who is out of confinement on an unsecured bond, was initially scheduled for sentencing last month but it was later continued to Wednesday this week.

The defendant claimed that he was born in Los Angeles, and that his parents were each a “U.S. Citizen” which statement he knew was false, according to federal prosecutors, but provided no other information at the time on where the defendant or his parents were actually born.

But the defense sentencing statement provides additional information, including Fetuli’s history and characteristics; the nature and circumstances of the offense and his letter of acceptance of responsibility. Also filed by the defense are several letters of support from family members and others to further establish a sentence of probation is appropriate.


Fetuli, in a Jan. 01, 2023 letter to U.S District Court Judge Jill A Otake — the presiding judge in his case — said that he’s “truly sorry, and [has] great remorse of what has happened.”

The defendant describes himself as a good person, father, and grandfather, and “nothing is more important in my life, than my children and grandchildren and spending time with them.”

Because the defendant is illegally in the U.S. as claimed by federal prosecutors in court filings, Fetuli could be subject to deportation back to Samoa as part of his sentence.

“In my heart, I am an American. My allegiance is permanent and I owe it to the United States, it has been my home for all of my life,” he wrote to Judge Otake.

“To be sent away to a place I have no knowledge of, would be my death sentence because of health issues,” he said. “Your honor, I pray for leniency and a pardon for what I have done.”


The defense’s sentencing statement summarized Fetuli’s background in which he immigrated to Lāʻie, Hawai‘i at 4-years old, with his mother and later re-located to Oakland, California. He later moved permanently to Los Angles in 1970.

The statement also explained the circumstances that led to his name change, saying that as a young man trying to raise a family — he was married by this time in 1977, “Vai found it difficult to find decent work being an immigrant with a criminal conviction.”

(The statement provided no other information on the “criminal conviction” issue.)

The defendant “met someone who told Vai he could sell him a false U.S. birth certificate for a fee. Vai purchased the false birth certificate and used it to obtain a California driver’s license under the name ‘Vai Doc Taula’ and date of birth of May 8, 1956” — the date/ year that is meaningful to Fetuli, as it was the date of his wedding anniversary and also when he was born in Samoa.

In 1995, Fetuli and his wife moved back to Oahu’s Northshore in Hawa’i, where he worked using the name “Vai Doc Taula, and obtained a Hawaii driver’s license with that name by transferring his California license.

The statement also gave a summary of the events leading up to federal charge against him. In 2018, when his Hawai‘i driver’s license expired, he could no longer fly to Los Angeles to see his grandson, to whom he was very close.

At this time, according to the defense, Hawai‘i had started requiring proof of legal presence in the U.S. by requiring a copy of a U.S. birth certificate along with any application to renew a Hawai‘i driver’s license.

Fetuli no longer had the original fake birth certificate from California with an embossed seal, and Hawaii Department of Motor Vehicle would not accept a copy of a birth certificate without an embossed seal.

“Although Vai was lawfully in the United States and could have obtained a driver’s license under his birth name by showing proof of legal presence, his identity had been Vai Doc Taula for so many years; he did not know how to begin the process to unravel his two identities.” the defense said.

He then decided to try and apply for a U.S. passport using a copy of the fake California birth certificate.

“Vai’s only motivation for obtaining a passport was to travel to Los Angeles to see his grandson play football, who was now in high school,” the defense said.

Six months after applying for the passport, Fetuli received a call from the FBI asking him to speak with them and he complied. He also fully cooperated in the investigation and provided a statement of what occurred and his motivation for doing so.

Also provided in the sentencing statement was Fetuli’s personal history, community contribution in Hawaii and characteristics that the defense argued warrant a sentence of probation.

For example, Fetuli created a football league for kids — who would never get the chance to play club football because of their size — to help them learn the basics of football, get them engaged, active, connected to their community, and off the streets, and away from playing video games all day.

And he named it the “Big Boys Football League”, which became a quick success and this league created an outlet for many of the boys in his La’ie community to go after school, and on weekends, according to the defense.

He also helped start three other leagues with the same concept in Ewa Beach, Mililani, and Waiʻanae - all on Oahu island. In addition to a football league, he created a little league baseball team for La’ie.

According to the defense, Fetuli “is well known in his community as a compassionate advocate for youth and has mentored hundreds of children and helped them reach their full potential.”

Photos embedded with the sentencing statement includes those of Fetuli and teams of the Big Boys Football League, as well as pictures of him and his family members, along with a photo when he was 4-years old with his mother.

The defense argued that a “sentence of one year of probation with appropriate conditions” is “sufficient, but not greater than necessary” to effectuate the purposes of sentencing.

According to the plea agreement, the offense to which the defendant pled guilty to includes a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000 plus a term of supervised release up to 3 years.

Fetuli is represented by the federal public defender’s office in Honolulu and public court records show that the defendant plans to speak at the sentencing hearing.

Samoa News notes that several documents filed in Fetuli’s case —  including two pre-sentencing reports are under seal by order of the court.