Duo convicted of ‘ice’ possession
Scott Barlow and Fatu Vagana have been found guilty of possession of methamphetamine, or ice, and a glass pipe used for smoking drugs.
The duo will be sentenced on 28 November 2017.
The decision was delivered by Supreme Court Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala yesterday.
Prosecuting the case were Fatumanavaupolu Ofisa Tagaloa and Anne Matalasi.
Leitaualesa Jerry Brunt is representing Vagana while Aumua Ming Leung Wai stood in for Barlow.
The defendants are charged with jointly knowing having in their possession methamphetamine that weighed 5.9 grams.
In addition, Barlow is also charged with knowingly having in his possession a utensil glass pipe.
Both accused pleaded not guilty.
Justice Tafaoimalo said the incident occurred on 28th June, 2017, where Barlow and Vagana went in a taxi to Fagalii International Airport.
“Scott went inside the airport to allegedly uplift an envelope addressed to a ‘Penina Setu’ arriving on a Talofa Airways flight from American Samoa,” Justice Tafaoimalo said.
“Fatu waited in the taxi with the taxi driver in the car park of the airport.
As it turns out, what had arrived from American Samoa was a bag for ‘Penina Setu’.
“Upon the bag being searched by a Customs officer, three packets of methamphetamine were discovered.
“The taxi was searched by Police and a glass pipe was found in the taxi.”
The prosecution called more than 10 witnesses.
Taking the stand was an Authorised Qualified Analyst with the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (S.R.O.S.) Narcotics Laboratory, who confirmed with the court that all three packets she received from Police contained methamphetamine and the interior of the glass pipe also contained methamphetamine.
According to Justice Tafaoimalo, the taxi driver, Pilitati Tavita, was the prosecution’s main witness because he transported the defendants to the airport.
He picked up Vagana from the Mulinuu wharf, and then they picked up Barlow and headed to the Fagali’i International Airport.
Pilitati informed the court that 30 minutes after Mr. Barlow went into the airport the second time, Police arrived and searched the car and Pilitati told them what was inside the tissue.
“He explains how the pipe came to be in the taxi.”
During cross examination, Pilitati informed the court that he has known Barlow for three years and Barlow uses the pipe to smoke his ice.
“Pilitati admits that he smokes ice as well but denies that the pipe belongs to him.”
A Customs officer also took the stand and said that when inspecting the bag, there were Twisties and an “ie” at the bottom.
The Customs officer said he started to get suspicious because he knew Barlow had been charged with importing ice in 2013.
He searched the bag and he felt an “ie” that was tied in a thick knot.
The officer added that Barlow said to him “uso faamolemole, I can give you whatever you want, I can give you $5000 each I cannot go back to that place I love my children and wife”.
According to the Customs Officer, that was when he knew there was something hidden in the “ie”.
The officer said he started to untie the “ie” while Barlow was still pleading with him, offering to do anything he wanted.
“Scott looked very worried, he was slapping his head and pleading,” the officer said.
Evidence given by the Prosecution stated that while at the airport, Barlow told the guy that he was there to pick up an envelope from Tutuila.
Justice Tafaoimalo said Barlow did offer the Customs officer $5000.
“But the guy (Customs officer) made a phone call while Scott was still pleading with him.
“Scott says he offered his service to help Fatu sell ice because he would get some to smoke himself.”
Vagana also took the stand noting that he has lived in American Samoa with his family for 32 years.
According to the co-defendant, Barlow said he needed $7000 but after discussions to provide materials for their house, they agreed on $3000.
“He went to the A.T.M. and withdrew $2000 and he had $1000 cash on him. This was counted out and given to Scott.
“The agreement was that Scott would deliver the materials to Vaitele and Fatu would transport the materials to Savaii.
“These materials have still not been supplied and the house is complete.”
Vagana further noted that his sister passed away in June and he contacted Barlow for the money to help with the funeral instead of the building materials.
He said he called Barlow more than 10 times to return his money.
Vagana confirms that on the day in question, he was not aware they were going to the airport.
He also says he has no understanding of ice and he does not consume it or wish to consume it.
Justice Tafaoimalo said there were key conflicts between the evidence of Mr. Barlow and Mr. Vagana in relation to the bag from American Samoa.
Mr. Barlow says he was expecting an envelope of money from American Samoa and he was uplifting it on instructions of Mr. Vagana.
Mr. Vagana says he never instructed Mr. Barlow and had no knowledge of why they were at the airport that day.
He was in the car awaiting money he says Mr. Barlow owed him for an order of building materials which never arrived. Both deny knowledge of the bag and of the narcotics.
“It comes down to my assessment of credibility and reliability of the witnesses.
“I believe Pilitati in relation to what he heard and what he saw in relation to the name ‘Penina Setu’.
“Both the accused have a motive to be less than truthful as both are trying to shift and avoid blame and responsibility for this very serious offence.
“Pilitati has no reason to lie in relation to what he heard and what he saw.”
Justice Tafaoimalo noted the fact that Pilitati admitted to smoking ice too and has no bearing on his role as the taxi driver to the airport.
“I found Scott to be anxious and fraught when giving his evidence.
“The reason is clear. He does not want to go to jail.
“I find Scott knew that what was arriving was a bag and what was inside the bag was ice,” said Justice Tafaoimalo.
“I found Fatu to be unconvincing and evasive.
“I do not accept his evidence that he wrote down a phone number in the taxi for the reason that the number of whoever had called him would have been stored in the telephone that he had.
“This is unbelievable and implausible.
“He went on to say that it was a name in his wallet but it was not the name ‘Penina’.
“This is a clear inconsistency in his evidence,” she noted.
Justice Tafaoimalo further pointed out that in her ruling that much evidence was called in relation to Scott’s belief that he was there to pick up an envelope of money.
“I do not find that this was his true belief even if he expressed it to those at the airport before and after the bag had been searched.
“He has a motive to exculpate himself as I find he knew that drugs were being brought in from American Samoa.
“I find the drugs were arranged by Fatu who gave the name of the sender and receiver.
“Not only is there direct evidence from Scott and Pilitati which I believe in relation to Fatu being the one who knew the names of the receiver and the sender, I find that Fatu also had the opportunity to arrange this cargo from surrounding circumstances. He lives in American Samoa. He has lived in American Samoa for 32 years.
“He says he has been back and forth from American Samoa four times since Mother’s day, which falls within the month of May.
“His connection to American Samoa is very strong circumstantial evidence which I cannot disregard.
“He also, by his own evidence, said he needed a person in Upolu for his building materials because he has been in American Samoa for many years.
“Scott said and I accept, that Fatu asked for his help to sell ice.
“These established facts lead to very solid inferences about Fatu’s involvement in organising the bag for Penina Setu.”
In conclusion, Justice Tafaoimalo stated: “I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the evidence supports potential physical custody of the drugs by Scott and, actual control of the drugs by Fatu at the time of the alleged offending.
Justice Tafaoimalo further pointed out that both accused had knowledge of the substance in their possession and they both had the intention to exercise possession.