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“IT was the lack of evidence on the part of the federal prosecutors that led to the unanimous not guilty verdict,” a juror who requested anonymity told Variety.

Asked why it took them three days to reach a verdict in the trial of  Rota Mayor  Efraim and Evelyn Atalig, the juror said, “It was a difficult case. There was a lot of back and forth discussion on  legal terms, evidence, and testimony of witnesses — it was not easy.”

At 2 p.m., the jurors informed Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona of the District Court for the NMI that they had reached a verdict.

They found  Mayor  and Evelyn Atalig not guilty of count 1 and count 2 charges of conspiracy and wire fraud.

The jurors likewise found the Ataligs not guilty of the false statement charge.

Attorney David Banes, who represented Mayor Atalig, told the media that the jurors took the deliberations seriously. “They reviewed the evidence…. We feel that they rendered justice here…and we sincerely thank them all,”  Banes said.

“We went up with two very good [U.S.] government lawyers,” said attorney Steven Pixley who represents Evelyn Atalig.

“The federal government had all the resources, but justice was done. My client was released. It’s over,” Pixley added.




Defense attorney David Banes speaks to the media after jurors acquitted Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig and co-defendant Evelyn Atalig, Wednesday, at the federal courthouse. Photo by Bryan Manabat

Variety failed to get a comment from the federal prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric O’Malley and Garth Backe.

Mayor Atalig and Evelyn Atalig also did not issue a statement.

The U.S. government has accused the Ataligs of arranging CNMI government-funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan from Feb. 2018 to Aug. 2018.

The Ataligs were initially charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from program receiving federal funds, and two counts of false statements.

Last week, following a motion of acquittal filed by the defense, Judge Manglona acquitted the Ataligs on the charge of theft from program receiving federal funds.

In CNMI Superior Court, Mayor Atalig and seven of his former and current resident directors were charged by the Attorney General’s Office with misconduct in public office.

They were accused of using  CNMI public funds, time, personnel or equipment for a political or campaign activity by attending or promoting a political or campaign rally on Guam in June 2018.

But the mayor’s co-defendants have already disposed the cases against them through a plea agreement or by participating in an adult diversion program.

The mayor, who was reelected in 2018 two months after he was indicted, is the remaining defendant in the local case.

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