Purse snatcher, 19, pleads guilty

Plea deal likely to lead to five-year sentence

Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A convicted felon reversed course on Tuesday and pleaded guilty to an April strong-arm robbery while on probation.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Salesi "George" Fifita, 19, agreed to a plea agreement with District Attorney Doug Gardner on a second degree robbery charge that will send him to prison for five years. Fifita had originally pleaded not guilty and was facing up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for a robbery that took place in the Mendenhall Valley on April 23. A trial had been set for August.

Fifita was on probation at the time of the April robbery after being convicted last year on a felony theft charge for stealing money from a 16-year-old boy in August on Delta Drive. Fifita was arrested again in April of this year after stealing a Dolce-Gabbana purse valued at $3,000 with a $500 digital camera from Juneau resident Tessa Cox as she sat in her vehicle outside the Sandbar on Industrial Boulevard.

Cox, a former Juneau Empire and Capital City Weekly employee, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Public Defender Eric Hedland told Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg that the plea agreement reached between his client and the state also includes three years probation and the resuspension of 17 months of prison time from the previous theft conviction. The plea agreement did not call for a fine, but there will be a $200 surcharge for court costs and restitution that's to be determined.

Pallenberg accepted the plea agreement and set a sentencing hearing for Sept. 2. Fifita remains in the Lemon Creek Correctional Center, where he has been held since his April arrest.

Local law enforcement officials suspect Fifita's involvement in other thefts while he was on probation. Assistant District Attorney Angela Kemp said during a bail hearing earlier this month that Fifita has been connected to two similar theft cases where no charges have been filed. Earlier this year, Fifita allegedly forced a 15- or 16-year-old boy against a van in the Nugget Mall parking lot and demanded money, Kemp said.

On another occasion, Fifita allegedly told an undercover informant he could get OxyContin pills for $160 each. He took an undisclosed amount of cash from the informant and never returned, she said.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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