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Judge says her sister-in-law is not a material witness in Rota case

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CHIEF Judge Ramona V. Manglona of the NMI District Court denied the joint self-recusal motion of Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig and his co-defendant Evelyn Atalig at a hearing on Monday.

Ramona Villagomez Manglona

After hearing from the defense and prosecution, the judge ruled from the bench that her sister-in-law, Sharon Manglona, is not a material witness in the case against the Ataligs.

The joint motion of the defendants was filed under seal, but it was Judge Manglona who brought the information to the attention of the parties following her review of the documents submitted to the court last week.

Sharon Manglona’s husband is the brother of CNMI Supreme Court Associate Justice John A. Manglona whose wife is Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona. (Variety incorrectly reported on Monday that Sharon Manglona is Justice Manglona’s sister. She is his sister-in-law.)

According to Chief Judge Manglona, her sister-in-law does not have any material information to add or subtract to the intent of what was manifested in Mayor Atalig’s request for travel authorizations prepared and signed by himself.

The federal judge said she will preside over the jury trial scheduled for March 10, 2020.

“I do not need to self-recuse,” she told the defense lawyers. “If you want to call her [Sharon Manglona] to testify, you can.”

The U.S. government has accused the Ataligs of arranging CNMI-government-funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan under fraudulent pretenses.

At the hearing on Monday, the Ataligs appeared via teleconference.

Mayor Atalig, represented by attorney David Banes, said Sharon Manglona, as an employee of Rota Department of Finance, is a material witness.

Banes said Sharon Manglona has information key to their defense.

For his part, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O’ Malley said the prosecution was ready to “forgo” Sharon Manglona’s testimony.

However, he added, “We believe she does have testimony.”

He said, “It’s safe to speculate that Sharon Manglona will testify that she did not fill out the [travel authorization or] TA requests” of the mayor.

O’Malley added, “We don’t want any more delays in the trial — we don’t want any more issues.”

According to a court disclosure, the Rota Finance employee transmitted the mayor’s TA requests to Finance’s central office on Saipan, but had no authority to approve them.

Mayor Atalig was initially charged with one count of wire fraud for attending a Guam political rally while on a government-funded trip.

In Nov. 2018, the U.S. government filed against him a superseding indictment that included his girlfriend, Evelyn Atalig. They were charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from program receiving federal funds, and two counts of false statements.

In Superior Court, Mayor Atalig and seven of his resident directors were accused of taking government- funded per diem and salary compensation to attend a Republican Party rally on Guam on June 23, 2018.

Presiding Judge Roberto Naraja has rescheduled the jury trial of the Rota officials from Jan. 13, 2020 to March 30, 2020.

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