A former Hawaii prison guard traded his integrity for cash by taking bribes to smuggle drugs and cigarettes to inmates, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.
Former Halawa Correctional Facility guard Feso Malufau’s financial problems made it easy for the "USO Family" gang to corrupt him, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Brady said in a closing statement in a trial that has provided an inside look at the operations of the prison gang.
Malufau, charged with conspiracy, is accused of taking bribes from the gang. Co-defendant Tineimalo Adkins is accused of leading a brutal gang attack on a fellow Halawa inmate in order to maintain or enhance his position within the gang.
The gang started out with a small group of Hawaii inmates needing to protect themselves from gangs in a mainland prisons, prosecutors said. "Uso" means brother in Samoan. The gang has grown to include at least 1,000 members of any ethnicity, committing drug-trafficking, violence and tax fraud in mainland and Hawaii prisons, prosecutors said.
Halawa was an ideal place to find employees to help further the gang’s activities, Brady said, because inmate phone calls weren’t monitored, searches of staff members were cursory and log books went largely ignored.
"They look for a public servant who is willing to trade in his integrity for cash," Brady said. "And they found that person in Feso Malufau."
Malufau had financial problems because he was facing foreclosure on one of three mortgages while overtime opportunities at the prison were drying up, Brady said.
Defense attorney Barry Edwards said that prison gang members with a lot of time on their hands were able to fabricate a story that framed Malufau.
"The Usos had a back story organized, and it was to continue their contraband just like before. The drugs kept flowing. The cigarettes kept coming in" long after Malufau left the prison in 2011, Edwards said.
Packs of cigarettes found in Malufau’s car could have easily been planted by those helping the gang on the outside, Edwards said, and cellphone records showing Malufau communicating with gang associates don’t prove it was Malufau who actually was on the line.
"How do you know whether someone makes a call on a phone simply because a telephone number shows up on a toll record?" Edwards asked.
Adkins’ attorney, Marcus Sierra, also said there were holes in the prosecution’s evidence when it comes to whether his client participated in the 2013 attack. It doesn’t make sense that Adkins would misbehave nine months before his scheduled release, Sierra said.
Sierra asked jurors to put aside preconceived notions about Adkins. The case isn’t about Adkins’ tattoos or his nickname, "Ghost," Sierra said.
"Mr. Adkins, he comes here to court wearing prison clothes. That’s not what this case is about either."
The jury began deliberating Thursday.
Adkins and Malufau were among 18 men indicted last year on racketeering-related charges. The others have pleaded guilty.