Convicted 'Big Chief' To Stay In The Big House

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A federal judge ruled that Bernard Gurr, the self-proclaimed "Misikea Fa Alaveleve," or "American Samoan Big Chief," who headed American Samoa Government Employees Federal Credit Union, must serve out the remaining year or so on his 70-month prison term for fraud and conspiracy related to the failure of the tiny Pacific island's only credit union more than a decade ago.

But Gurr, who has been jailed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada since his April 2003 conviction on 19 criminal charges, may return to his remote island home to serve out the three years of supervised release after leaving prison, rather than serve it in Hawaii, 2,000 miles away from home.

The court originally sentenced Gurr to supervised release in Hawaii because it is the closest jurisdiction for the U.S. judicial system, which has no supervision in American Samoa.

Gurr, who has served 51 of his 70-month sentence, had requested early release based on December's Supreme Court ruling striking down mandatory sentencing guidelines.

But NCUA, which reported a $4.6 million loss from the 1993 failure of the $8-million credit union, argued against early release, stressing that a stiff sentence was needed to help deter other financial misdeeds in credit unions. The court also upheld a $65,000 restitution order against Gurr.

In one of the stranger trials in credit union history, Gurr was tried and sentenced in federal court in Washington, D.C., more than 6,000 miles away from American Samoa, because the remote island does not have a federal court system and the Washington courts have nominal jurisdiction over the criminal system there. Gurr was arrested by federal agents in December 1999 as a plane he was traveling on landed at Honolulu International Airport.

A search of Gurr's luggage uncovered credit union documents that had disappeared when NCUA came to take the credit union under conservatorship six years before.

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