A mistrial was declared this afternoon in the government's prosecution of two American Samoa officials who are on trial in federal district court in Washington on charges that include fraud and bribery.
The jury, which began deliberating Feb. 3, announced today it was deadlocked. Eleven jurors, according to a defense attorney who was present, said in open court that they favored acquittal on all counts for Lt. Gov. Aitofele Sunia and co-defendant Tini Lam Yuen, a lawmaker in American Samoa.
The trial began Jan. 12 in the courtroom of Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Sunia and Yuen were indicted in 2007.
Prosecutors alleged in the indictment that Sunia and Yuen used their positions and relationships to secure contracts for companies under their control to supply the classroom and library furniture to the American Samoa Department of Education. Those contracts, according to the indictment, were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Covington & Burling partner Stephen Anthony, a lead attorney for Sunia, said the jury deliberated “carefully and thoroughly” in the case. “It was clear the jury paid close attention to the evidence,” said Anthony, noting the jury’s several letters to Walton. Covington partner Emily Henn also represented Sunia.
Michele Peterson, an assistant federal public defender in Washington who represented Yuen, was not immediately reached for comment.
At the time of the indictment, then-Covington partner Lanny Breuer was lead counsel for Sunia, appearing in court several times. He withdrew in February 2009. Breuer last year became assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. He recused from participating in the prosecution of Sunia and Yuen.
Justice Department trial attorneys Matthew Stennes and Kathryn Albrecht of the Public Integrity Section were not immediately reached for comment this evening about whether the government is planning to hold a second trial.