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In case against Ataligs, judge grants defense request to disclose grand jury and other materials

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CHIEF Judge Ramona V. Manglona of the District Court for the NMI has granted the request of defense attorney David Banes to disclose grand jury and government witness materials to Jeremy Wolfe, an investigator hired by the defense.

Banes, who represents Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig, earlier asked the court to modify the protective order issued on Feb. 5, 2020 regarding grand jury transcripts and “Henthorn” materials to Wolfe, former federal agent. Banes noted that the federal prosecutor did not oppose the requested disclosure.

According to a legal website, “It is essential to obtain all relevant information about agents that have interviewed a witness or defendant. This includes prior backgrounds or training that can be used to undermine their credibility. It also includes the agents’ personnel files. The seminal case of United States v. Henthorn, 931 F.2d (9th Cir. 1991) allows for this sort of information to be provided to a defendant.”

Atalig and co-defendant Evelyn Atalig, who is represented by attorney Steven Pixley, are accused by the U.S. government of arranging CNMI-government funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan from Feb. 2018 to Aug. 2018. A superseding indictment charged the Ataligs with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from program receiving federal funds, and two counts of false statements.

Last month, Judge Manglona issued an order postponing the jury trial of the Ataligs because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the decision of the Guam and CNMI governments to close all government offices effective immediately while directing all non-essential employees to remain at home.

Judge Manglona vacated the jury trial set for March 18, 2020 and set a status conference for April 29, 2020 at 1:30 p.m.

The jury trial for the Ataligs has been postponed several times now.

Opposition

On April 10, 2020, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O’ Malley filed a motion renewing his opposition to the defense’s joint motion to amend the witness list and add an expert witness.

O’ Malley said the motion is untimely and the defendants have failed to provide a summary of an expert’s opinion, bases and reasons for those opinion as required by the federal rule of criminal procedure.

In their joint motion the Ataligs requested the court to amend their witness list for the trial and to add Dr. Gregory Vecci, an FBI interviewing expert, who will testify “on matters relating to (among other subjects) coercive and misleading effect of the way the government’s investigative agents used in this matter when interviewing witnesses and the significance of certain ‘Henthorn’ materials of an agent involved in this case.”

O’Malley said the defense sought to introduce an expert witness into the trial, notwithstanding the fact at that point, the proposed expert knew little to nothing about the case. “Because the defendants failed initially to provide timely notice of their intent to introduce expert testimony, and continue to defy the court’s deadline to provide the government with their summary report, the court would be within its discretion to deny their motion to add the proposed expert to their witness list.”

In CNMI Superior Court, Mayor Atalig and seven of his former and current resident directors were charged with misconduct in public office. Their bench trial was set for March 30, 2020 but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, local court trials have been temporary suspended.

The CNMI government is accusing the Rota officials of taking government-funded per diem and salary compensation to attend a Republican campaign rally on Guam on June 23, 2018.

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