Two detained in traffic stop tell wildly different stories about drugs allegedly found in vehicle
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A man with a prior conviction for receiving stolen property 3 years ago was arrested last month for allegedly violating local drug laws.
Finaaso Toolagi made his initial appearance in court last month. He’s charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine (meth) and one count of unlawful possession of marijuana, both unclassified felonies that carry a sentence of imprisonment for not less than five years nor more than ten years and a fine of not less than $5,000 nor more than $20,000, or both.
Bail is set at $10,000.
If he posts bond, Toolagi is ordered not to violate any laws of the territory or any conditions of his 7-year probation from his previous conviction.
The government claims that on June 26, 2021 at around 6a.m, several police officers including detectives from the DPS Vice and Narcotics Unit responded to an incident involving a vehicle at a store parking lot in Pavaivai, where drugs were discovered during a traffic stop.
While officers were asking for the driver’s license and vehicle registration, one officer observed paraphernalia including four empty stamp sized baggies and two cut up straws, laying on the floor on the passenger’s side of the vehicle.
Two individuals were inside the vehicle, a female driver and a male passenger who was later identified as Fineaso Toolagi, the defendant in this matter.
One of the two traffic officers who originated the stop told investigators that he flagged down the vehicle, due to expired tags — it was heading west towards Faleniu. However, the vehicle did not stop but continued at a high rate of speed.
Police units followed the vehicle and it was stopped at a parking lot of a store in Pavaiai. The driver looked nervous and did not respond to officers’ questions. When asked about the reason why she did not stop her vehicle, the driver told the police she did not see them.
The officer further told investigators while he was speaking to the driver, the defendant was moving around, acting nervous.
The defendant and the driver of the vehicle were both informed by police officers that the vehicle was going to be impounded for expired tags, and both of them would be transported to the Tafuna Police Station (TPS) for further investigation.
Officers discovered a glass pipe with white crystalline substance and two hand rolled cigarettes of green leafy substance in the defendant’s possession, as well as cut up straws, empty baggies and a broken glass pipe commonly used to smoke meth.
The white crystalline substance was field-tested and the test results yielded positive for meth.
Nothing was found on the driver of the vehicle and she was later released after she was questioned by police.
The driver told the police that Toolagi had stopped her vehicle and asked for a ride home. Toolagi lives in Futiga while the driver is from Lepuapua.
When Toolagi entered her vehicle, some stuff fell from his hands and lay on the floor of her vehicle under the passenger’s seat. The driver told police that Toolagi told her that he went to Iliili to pick up his “stuff” from his supplier and that he wanted to get back home as quickly as he could before “he gets caught.”
The driver further told police that Toolagi admitted to her that he had illegal drugs in his possession.
Toolagi’s statement to police alleges a different story.
According to Toolagi, he met his friend, the driver, two weeks prior to the incident and he was not aware that her vehicle tags were expired.
He said they drove around looking for someone who could buy the power tools that were in the back of her vehicle, to get money to buy them drugs. The power tools, according to Toolagi’s statement, were stolen from another man.
Toolagi told investigators they went to Tafuna and Iliili before heading westbound, and then back along the road heading towards Pavaivai, when their vehicle was pulled over by police officers in front of a store.
He also told the investigators that at one point, in front of a store in the Tafuna area, he found a small black pouch containing illegal drugs and paraphernalia and he gave it to the driver as they continued driving around looking for someone who would buy the tools. He described the contents of the small black pouch to officers.
Toolagi continued, saying as they passed a store in Faleniu, two police officers stationed there flagged them down but he told the driver not to stop because there are illegal drugs inside the black pouch in his possession and he needed to get rid of it as soon as possible.
As they continued to drive away from police, he tried to throw the black pouch outside of the vehicle, however, the police unit was behind them. So he pulled the drugs out and put it in his pocket — all the while, unaware that the vehicle tags were expired, along with his friend’s driver’s license.
Toolagi told investigators that he was in jail for 17 months and he’s on a 7-year probation for a stealing conviction from 4 years ago. He has been staying clean and he has kids that he has been taking care of and he has stayed away from trouble during his probation.
The driver was questioned again by investigators regarding this incident, and she changed her story.
She stated that she works at Toolagi’s uncle’s coffee stop in Tafuna, she doesn’t know Toolagi personally, but she knows him from around her neighborhood. She said she picked up the defendant from Tafuna heading to Lepuapua, and she was shocked when a police officer discovered a glass pipe containing meth and marijuana joints in Toolagi’s possession.
The driver further stated to investigators, as they heading westbound, Toolagi asked her if he wanted “some stuff for the night.”
She looked at Toolagi and asked him what he meant by “stuff for the night,” and Toolagi smiled and whispered, “stuff to make you feel cool.” It was then that Toolagi talked about his friend from the area called, “Le Filiili” who always supplies him with “some good stuff.”
According to the driver, she asked Toolagi if he was in possession of any illegal drugs. Toolagi give her the look and said, “I don’t do those stuff.”
The driver stated that when their vehicle was pulled over by two police officers, Toolagi turned to him and said, “Sister, I got some stuff with me that I need to get rid of before police officers arrive.” Before the two police officers got to the vehicle, the driver said Toolagi started to move around and tried to reach into his pocket for something.
In May of 2018, Toolagi was ordered to serve 28 months in jail as a condition of his 7-year probation after being convicted of stealing, a class C felony.
During his sentencing, Toolagi told the court that it was his drug problem that pushed him to steal other people’s property. He promised the court that he would do his best not to have a problem with the law again, and he would quit doing drugs.
The court accepted his submission for a second chance but was told to address his drug problem and to make sure not to repeat it.