WASHINGTON — American Samoa's former delegate to Congress drew a five-to-15-month prison term today for participating in a payroll-padding scheme that prosecutors say earned him $39,000.
Fofo I. F. Sunia, a Democrat who served almost four terms in the House, was sentenced on his guilty plea to conspiring with his chief aide, Matthew Iuli, to defraud the government of $130,920 through false payroll claims.
U.S. District Judge Stanley Harris rejected a defense contention that Sunia passively accepted proceeds from a scheme started by Iuli without his direct knowledge. The defense had quoted a Samoan maxim: "A high chief never questions where things come from."
"It is inconceivable to me with your obvious abilities . . . that you weren't familiar with what was happening," the judge told Sunia.
Before he was sentenced, Sunia told the judge: "I have come to understand the meaning of shame (and) fear. I have made apologies to my people and I hope they will forgive me."
Sunia resigned his seat in Congress on Sept. 6, the day before the House ethics committee was to hold a disciplinary hearing on his case.