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Cameron Smith

Star Utah DL played on despite felony armed robbery charges

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Bingham (Utah) High School is one of the nation's hottest programs. Currently ranked No. 14 in the RivalsHigh 100, Bingham is 5-0 and hasn't had any opponent come as close as 23 points to the Miners imperious perch. They seem all but destined to waltz to a Utah state title. Nonetheless, the program is now facing an ethical crisis surrounding a star defensive lineman, who is only now belatedly being suspended two games for facing charges of felonious armed robbery against fellow teenagers last year.

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The charges against Vilseni Fauonuku, which were first reported last week in the Salt Lake City Tribune, stem from an incident last April, when the Utah-committed lineman allegedly held five teens at gunpoint, stealing two wallets at a party at a home near Bingham High School, his current school. Since Fanuonuku is being charged as an adult, he faces penalties of as much as five years in prison and $10,000 in fines.

Still, despite the charges standing in clear and obvious violation of the Bingham football program's code of ethics, the returning all-state nose tackle was allowed to play in the team's first four games, recording 17 tackles and proving to be a significant defensive force up front in the Miners' defensive line.

Disturbingly, Fauonuku isn't the only senior standout who is playing despite a charge of armed robbery. According to BND.com, East St. Louis (Ill.) star Charles Tigue, also a defensive lineman, is charged with participating in an armed robbery in March 2009. In that case, Tigue and his cousin, Marnez Crawford, held a gun to the head of a woman to steal all the money she and three companions had in their posession. The total of $170 was split between the two teens, who were later captured and are now charged with two Class X felonies, which carry sentences of six to 30 years.

Despite those charges, Tigue has received a high level of leniency. Last spring, the junior was released from electronic monitoring to attend the East St. Louis senior prom, and he continues to play for undefeated East St. Louis this fall, under the guidance of his uncle Darren Sunkett, who is also the Flyers' head coach.

When the charges against Fauonuku initially surfaced last week, the Bingham program rested defense of its actions on Fauonuku's right to a fair trial. Nonetheless, Fauonuku then served the first of a two game suspension on Friday night in the Miners' 52-7 rout of Kearns. If Bingham was really committed to giving Fauonuku a full run of justice before taking any action, the delayed suspension would seem pretty non-sensical.

The other possible justification for allowing Fauonuku to play was a lack of knowledge of the charges he was facing. If that's true, the criticism of the Bingham program might be even more justified.

That's essentially the point made by Salt Lake City Tribune writer Tony Jones, who spoke extensively with Bingham football coach Dave Peck before and after the incident emerged last week. Here's Jones' take on the controversy:

Based upon extended conversations with him last week, it's clear that the coach had good intentions in this matter. But the execution has been so faulty that he deserves whatever heat comes his way.

Essentially, Peck said that, he wasn't aware of the severity of the charges levied against Fauonuku. He was aware that there was an arrest, that there was an incident and that if the charges proved to be true, he would then take action.

As the leader of the Bingham football program, Peck failed the test of due diligence. It took The Tribune less than a day to obtain the police report of the events that led to Fauonuku's arrest and felony charges. The report is fully and readily available to the public.

Because he didn't seek out the information, Peck left himself open to criticism. He looks like a coach who places winning over ethical standards and discipline.

If Peck were aware of the specifics in the case, that's even worse. It sends the worst possible message to Fauonuku: It's OK to get charged with a felony, just keep the tackles and sacks coming.

For now, Fauonuku is scheduled to sit out one more game, then return to action for Bingham's stretch run into the state playoffs. After that, he may even go on to the full-ride football scholarship he's scheduled to receive from the University of Utah. This despite that fact that, according to the Deseret News, Fauonuku's accomplice in the incident -- former Bingham teammate Sam Langi -- pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in the crime and received three years of probation as punishment. If those two games don't sound like fair and adequate punishment to you, you're probably not alone.

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