Rota mayor wants another trial postponement

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ROTA Mayor Efraim Atalig’s lawyer said the essential witnesses that they intend to call to testify at the trial set for March 10 will be unavailable.

Efraim Manglona Atalig

In a motion for continuance filed on Wednesday in the District Court for the NMI, attorney David Banes requested that the trial be continued “until the related criminal case pending before the Superior Court is resolved.”

Mayor Atalig and his girlfriend Evelyn Atalig have been charged in federal court with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from program receiving federal funds, and two counts of false statements.

They are accused of orchestrating CNMI-government-funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan from February 2018 to August 2018.

Their jury trial has been postponed several times now.

In the CNMI Superior Court, Mayor Atalig and seven of his resident directors have been charged with misconduct in public office for 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.

In his motion filed in federal court, attorney Banes said Mayor Atalig’s co-defendants are essential to their defense because of their anticipated “extremely exculpatory testimony.”

Banes said the bench trial for the local court case is expected to last a week or so, which would then make the co-defendants available to testify in the federal court case.

“Mr. Atalig will not ask for any further continuance in that case,” Banes added, as he asked federal Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona for a 30-day continuance.

As for the defense witnesses, Banes said at least four of Mayor Atalig’s co-defendants in the local case are unavailable because they are still being prosecuted and all of the mayor’s seven co-defendants have been threatened with federal prosecution, “so they are expected to invoke the Fifth Amendment if called to testify at trial in this [federal] case.”

Banes added, “Mr. Atalig has done everything he could to resolve this by first requesting immunity from both the U.S. government and the CNMI government, and, after their refusal, moved the court to compel immunization.”

Judge Manglona denied the request for immunity two weeks ago.

Banes said with the motion denied, “the only time the co-defendants [in the local case] may be free to speak is after the CNMI case is resolved — counsel for the U.S. government, at the motion hearing held two days ago, on Feb. 24, 2020, essentially told the court that, as of now, ‘most likely’ the U.S. government would not prosecute the co-defendants, regardless of the results of the bench trial in the CNMI case. Therefore, [the mayor’s] co-defendants can be compelled to testify at trial, once the CNMI case is finished, but not before that.”

Banes said the anticipated testimony of the co-defendants in the CNMI case “would show that no one in the group, including Mr. Atalig and Ms. Atalig, harbored any intent to use the…trip [to Guam] as a pretext to attend a political rally, and that the anticipated testimony of at least some of the co-defendants would show the modus operandi of FBI special agent investigating this matter of not accurately summarizing witness interview statements (the interviews were not recorded).”

Banes said, “Not continuing the trial will force Mr. Atalig to defend himself without the extremely important exculpatory information and will result in an unfair trial.”

He reiterated that testimony of the mayor’s co-defendants in the CNMI case are essential to his defense.

“The prosecution’s theory is that there was a conspiracy involving Mr. Atalig, Ms. Atalig, and the seven CNMI case co-defendants, with Mr. Atalig acting as the leader. It is essential to Mr. Atalig to prove that not a single one of them acted with fraudulent intent in applying to take the [Guam] trip,” said Banes.

With the motion for continuance, Banes also included a declaration that provided what the co-defendants’ testimony will provide: That there were good faith attempts made on Guam to gain access to a U.S. military office to look for surplus equipment, which was the official reason for the trip.

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