Mayor Atalig, co-defendant acquitted of one charge

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CHIEF Judge Ramona V. Manglona of the District Court for the NMI on Wednesday acquitted Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig and co-defendant Evelyn Atalig of theft from program receiving federal funds.

The judge then instructed the jury of the changes in the charges against the defendants.

The other charges against the defendants are conspiracy, wire fraud and two counts of false statements over CNMI government-funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan from Feb. 2018 to Aug. 2018.

After the prosecution rested its case on Tuesday, the mayor’s defense lawyers David Banes, Cong “Dennis” Nie, and Joseph Horey moved for a judgment of acquittal, stating that there was insufficient evidence presented to maintain the charges against their client.

Evelyn Atalig, represented by attorney Steven Pixley, joined the motion for judgment of acquittal.

On Wednesday, the defense presented its case and called eight witnesses to testify including Tinian Mayor Edwin P. Aldan.

He talked about travel authorization procedures and processes, and his discretionary power on other matters.

He also noted that compared to Saipan, the municipalities of Tinian and Rota have more autonomy with their funding.

The other witnesses discussed, among others things, their working relationship with the Rota mayor and Evelyn Atalig, and if they were with them on the trips mentioned in the indictment.

A Chamorro interpreter, Florence Kirby, was provided to witnesses who wanted to testify in the local language.

Nie on Tuesday told the court that “there was not enough evidence to show that there was any intent to defraud or fraud in the evidence submitted and testimonies heard from the witnesses.”

He added, “There was no pattern that showed criminal motive or criminal intent.”

Banes, for his part, said  evidence showed that all the trips were for business and were not personal.

Yet the indictment “says that the main reason if not the only reason that Mayor Atalig went on these different trips was for personal reasons.”

Horey said the court should dismiss count III: theft from program receiving federal funds because there is “not enough evidence to support the charge.”

Horey said evidence has shown  that the funds Mayor Atalig obtained and used were the property of the CNMI government.

Horey said the mayor cannot be in violation of the statute, which requires that a defendant be the agent of the same government whose funds he misappropriates.

“Since the evidence has undisputedly shown that Efraim Atalig is mayor of Rota, while the funds at issue were those of the CNMI, two separate governments are involved, and the statutory element cannot be met,” Horey said.

In a brief in support of motion for judgment of acquittal, Banes said Mayor Atalig is alleged to have been an agent “of a local government.”

Banes said on that point the indictment is accurate, as the evidence has shown that his client  is now, and was at the time of the events at issue, the mayor of Rota.

Moreover, Banes said, the CNMI, as a Commonwealth of the U.S., is thus clearly a “state,” while anything pertaining to the municipality of Rota would be defined as “local” since Rota is a political subdivision within the CNMI.

Banes said Efraim Atalig, as mayor of Rota is therefore an “agent of a local government.”

Citing a previous ruling, Banes said the district court found that the CNMI was not liable for a debt incurred by the mayor of Tinian and Aguiguan, since the mayor of a municipality is not a part of the Commonwealth executive branch, nor is he an agent of the Commonwealth, unless he is also a resident department head.

Banes said Mayor Atalig was not an agent of the CNMI, “nevertheless he is charged in this case with fraudulently obtaining funds belonging to the CNMI.”

Banes said evidence has shown that the funds that Efraim Atalig obtained and used — whether wrongfully or not — were the property of the CNMI.

“The evidence therefore shows that the government of which Mr. Atalig was an agent, and the government whose property he allegedly misappropriated, were two different governments,” Banes said.

In related news, both the defense and the prosecution have agreed to file a stipulation of facts regarding the testimony of Julie Rivera, a property disposal specialist at the Defense Logistics Agency (previously known as the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, or DRMO) on Navy Base Guam:

  • That sometime in June 2018, while at work, Rivera recalled that a male individual she understood to be a Rota resident requested entry into the DRMO facility using his military identification card.
  • The male individual said he wanted to see what was available at DRMO.
  • Rivera informed the male individual that he could not enter the facility because it was necessary to first make arrangements with the CNMI liaison, namely Ms. Anamarie Inos.
  • The male individual expressed displeasure, said he would raise the issue with Ms. Inos' superiors, and then departed the premises.

The Ataligs’ jury trial started on Aug. 11 and will resume today, Thursday, at 8:15 a.m.




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