Ataligs want expert on FBI interviewing techniques to testify

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BECAUSE Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig and his co-defendant Evelyn Atalig believe that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the Public Auditor agents materially misrepresented what was said by witnesses they interviewed, the defendants plan to call an FBI interviewing expert to testify on their behalf at the trial.

Efraim Atalig

The Ataligs, in a joint motion filed in the District Court for the NMI, wants to add Gregory Vecchi, PhD as witness for the defense.

Mayor Atalig and his girlfriend Evelyn Atalig were charged 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 under false pretenses from February 2018 to August 2018.

Their jury trial is scheduled to start on Tuesday, March 10.

According to the motion, Dr. Vechhi has 19 years of experience working for the FBI and various other professional positions related to criminal investigation, including as an agent in the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S Department of Justice investigating crimes involving federal employees.

Dr. Vecchi is expected to testify on the following:

1) The “coercive and misleading effect” of the way the government’s investigative agents used when interviewing witnesses in this case.

2) The unlikelihood of having multiple witnesses in the same case disputing the accuracies of an investigative agent’s summaries of their interviews.

3) The atypical interview method used by the investigators in this case, “including witness intimidation and videotaping only some but not all interviews.”

4) The significance of the information regarding an investigative agent involved in this case.

Rota Mayor Atalig is represented by attorney David Banes while Evelyn Atalig is represented by attorney Steven Pixley.

The defense lawyers said the need for the FBI expert’s testimony arose only recently, citing the recent denial of their request for a trial postponement by Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona.

The Ataligs’ lawyers also said the denial precluded any chance to call Rota Mayor Atalig’s co-defendants in the Superior Court case “to testify as to (among other things) the inaccuracies of interview reports in this case.”

In addition, “the underlying materials prompting the need for the expert were provided only recently, and the defense team needed time to conduct research and analyze them before they were able to determine an expert was necessary.”

These include video recordings of the government agents’ interviews together with their written reports of those interviews, the defense lawyers said.

“Those records, after video recordings were not fully transcribed (even at this moment, the defense team is still in the process of transcribing videos and analyzing them), provided information regarding the interview techniques used by the government and how inaccurate or misleading the reports were written when compared to the actual, recorded conversations,” they added.

In Superior Court, Mayor Atalig and seven of his former or current resident directors were charged with misconduct in public office.

Vanessa Charfauros, Magdalena Mesngon, and Dexter Apatang have already disposed the cases against them through a plea agreement with the CNMI Office of the Attorney General.

Including the Rota mayor, the remaining defendants in the CNMI case are Dean Manglona, Eusebio Manglona, Josepha Manglona, and Dennis Mendiola.

The Rota officials 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.

The AG’s office recently granted “use immunity” to the Rota officials who have not resolved their cases to avoid further delay in the local and federal court trials.

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