Two passengers in vehicle with expired plates face drug charges
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Three men arrested by police last month during a traffic stop appeared in District Court last month for their initial appearances, after drugs were found on two of the men, while the driver of the vehicle faces a traffic violation for driving a vehicle without current license tags.
The three men are Asofitu Tauga and Ameki Mago, who are both facing felony charges and Victor Fineaso, who was the driver of the vehicle and is facing various traffic violations.
Tauga is charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine (meth) and one count of unlawful possession of marijuana, both unclassified felonies, punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than five nor more than ten years and a fine of not more than $20,000, or both.
Tauga’s bail is set at $10,000.
Mago is charged with one count of unlawful possession of meth and one count of unlawful possession of meth with the intent to distribute, both felonies, punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than five nor more than twenty years and a fine of not more than $20,000, or both.
Mago’s bail is set at $25,000.
Preliminary examination for both defendants is set for next week.
Fineaso, the driver, was released on his own recognizance after his initial appearance, awaiting his next court appearance scheduled for next month. He is facing several traffic citations.
The government alleges that on June 11, 2021, a vehicle was stopped in Tafuna, by police after it was noticed that the vehicle did not have current license tags, and after checking with headquarters, it was confirmed its license was expired. Four people were inside the vehicle when police approached the vehicle — three men and a female individual.
The three men were Tauga, Mago and Fineaso, who was the driver.
During the traffic stop, Finaaso was discovered to have been cited earlier in the day for operating a vehicle with expired tags. He was also driving without a valid driver’s license and had been since 2019. The vehicle was impounded and the driver and three passengers searched per routine.
The front passenger, later identified as Tauga, a co-defendant in this case, during his pat down was discovered to have a hard object inside his right lower pocket. When asked what was inside of his pocket, Tauga responded by stating, “o le paepa tioata” translation, “it is a glass pipe”.
The white substance inside the pipe later tested positive for methamphetamine.
The other two passengers sitting in the back of the vehicle were later identified as Mago (co-defendant in this matter) and a female individual who's name was mentioned in the court affidavit, but since she is not charged, Samoa News has chosen not to use her name. Mauga was also frisked before being taken in, but nothing was found on him.
However, while returning to the vehicle, a police officer observed a hand rolled joint with a green leafy substance inside it, on the floor of the vehicle where Mauga and the female passenger were sitting. When asked about the joint, the female passenger told officers that it belonged to Mauga.
The green leafy substance was later tested and yielded positive for marijuana.
All four individuals were taken to the Tafuna Police Substation (TPS) along with the impounded vehicle. The case was then transferred to detectives of the Vice and Narcotics Unit who were present at the TPS when the four and the impounded vehicle arrived there.
The impounded vehicle was later searched in the presence of Toilolo who was the operator of the vehicle. Upon searching the front passenger side of the vehicle, detectives discovered a child’s sock, containing three cut-up straws. The three straws contained a white crystalline substance that was later tested and yielded positive results for methamphetamine.
Further search of the vehicle, netted detectives five straws containing white crystalline substance beneath the back seat behind the driver’s seat. The white crystalline substance was later tested and yielded positive results for methamphetamine.
The female passenger was interviewed in a separate room by detectives after she was informed of her rights. She told detectives that she understood her rights and she wished to make a statement.
According to the female passenger’s statement, she called Toilolo for a ride, and he and Mauga picked her up from her house in Malaeimi.
When asked about what was found inside the vehicle, she stated that it all belonged to Mauga.
Toilolo refused to make a statement after being Mirandized, while Taulagamo was also Mirandized, but chose to make a statement.
According to his statement, he was walking from his home in Mapusaga when he saw Toilolo’s vehicle on the road, which he then stopped and jumped in for a ride. He said, upon entering the vehicle, Toilolo handed him a glass pipe containing white crystalline substance inside, which Taulamago said that he lit and took two hits. He further stated that after smoking the pipe, he placed it inside his pocket.
Taulamago stated that he does not have any knowledge of the straws found in the child’s sock.
Mauga was also interviewed by detectives after being Mirandized. He stated that he had no knowledge of what was found inside the vehicle. He continued to say that the illegal drugs found inside the vehicle were not his.
The 5 straws alleged to have been found near where Mauga was sitting inside the vehicle is inconsistent with personal use, according to police, which is why he is further charged with “the intent to distribute” as well as possession.
There was no mentioned in the court affidavit about what happened to the female passenger after she was interviewed by detectives.