Former Land Transport Authority (LTA) Assistant Chief Executive Officer in Savai’I, Mataafa Sepelini Poufa (CEO) escaped a possible prison sentence with a $3,000 tala monetary fine this week.
A visibly relieved Mataafa was overtaken with emotions as Supreme Court Justice Mata Keli Tuatagaloa handed the ruling down on Monday afternoon.
Prosecution sought a custodial sentence for Mataafa who was initially charged with 24 counts but defense asked for a non-custodial sentence and a monetary fine.
The court found Mataafa guilty in early March of just six of those charges: two counts of altering, concealing, destroying or reproducing documents with intent to deceive and four counts of using altered documents.
The court convicted him of the six charges but decided against a custodial sentence, citing his 24 years of service to the government and people of Samoa and first-time offender status. Mataafa also had numerous positive character references including one from a member of the judiciary (a judge) but Justice Tuatagaloa rejected that reference, calling it “inappropriate” and a “conflict of interest.”
Fepulea’i asked the court for leniency and a non-custodial sentence.
Justice Tuatagaloa noted Mataafa’s background as a public servant, “his diligence, competence and good character.”
She said the custodial sentence sought by prosecution looked at cases concerning theft as a servant and not the charges Mataafa has been convicted. She pointed out that Mataafa made no money by his actions.
“There is no evidence of money or monetary benefits received,” said Justice Tuatagaloa.
Placing Mataafa under a custodial sentence would not serve Samoa well due to his expertise, qualifications and past years of service to the country, she added.
The original charges against Mataafa were: forgery (four counts); using forged documents (four counts); altering, concealing, destroying or reproducing documents with intent to deceive (four counts); using altered or reproduced documents with intent to deceive (four counts); damaging or interfering with electronic data (four counts) and forgery of electronic data (four counts).
He was represented by Patrick Fepulea’i and Bridget Crichton Faamatuainu.
Fepulea’i told the court his client is working another job and re-applied for his old position but was not shortlisted. His income has decreased since his departure from LTA.
His co-defendant Anoanoa’i Pepe Lafai, represented by the same defense attorneys, was dismissed of all charges. She was present for Mataafa’s sentencing.
Lafai served as Head of LTA’s Legal Division in Savai’i and was charged with one count each for forgery; using a forged document; altering, concealing, destroying or reproducing documents with intent to deceive; using altered or reproduced documents with intent to deceive; damaging or interfering with electronic data and forgery of electronic data.
Mataafa wiped his tears aand he was heard outside the courtroom, repeatedly saying to his attorneys: “faafetai.”
Mataafa’s $SAT3,000 fine must be paid by 4 p.m. today as ordered by the court.