‘Atalig didn’t attend last 3 days of Guam confab’

Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig traveled with a 20-person delegation from Rota, including his girlfriend, to attend a conference on traditional medicine at the University of Guam in January 2018, but the two only showed up on the first day and did not attend the remaining three days of the event, according to a federal prosecutor.

Atalig’s girlfriend and co-defendant, Evelyn M. Atalig later filed a misleading post-travel report which made it sound as if she had attended the conference every day, said assistant U.S. attorney Eric O’Malley.

He said Efraim M. Atalig would have known this to be false; the evidence will show the two spent the remaining days of the conference together.

“Yet, he authorized her to receive the balance of her per diem payment based on that false submission,” O’Malley pointed out.

The federal prosecutor cited the Guam conference Tuesday in the U.S. government’s opposition to Efraim M. Atalig’s motion to exclude evidence.

The Guam conference and two other additional trips were not included in the alleged scheme in the superseding indictment filed against Efraim M. Atalig and Evelyn Atalig.

The superseding indictment charged the Ataligs over five other trips.

The prosecution had notified Efraim M. Atalig’s lawyer, David George Banes, that it intends to introduce evidence relating to three more trips.

Efraim M. Atalig, through Banes, then filed a motion to prevent the U.S. government from introducing those evidence at trial.

Banes argued, among other things, that the case against the mayor involving five trips is already a complicated one and that the prosecution’s intent to introduce more evidence related to three more trips in which he is not charged with, will only mislead and confuse the jurors later at trial.

In the U.S. government’s opposition, O’Malley said the additional three trips contain elements similar to other five trips described in the superseding indictment.

For example, O’Malley said, evidence will show that between Jan. 2 to 7, 2018, the Ataligs traveled with the 20-person delegation from Rota for the claimed purpose of attending the conference on traditional medicine at the University of Guam.

He said Efraim M. Atalig was scheduled to be a presenter on Jan. 3, 2018, which was the “introduction day.”

The prosecutor said Evelyn Atalig registered as a participant and the conference lasted through Jan. 6, 2018.

O’Malley said evidence will further show that after Efraim M. Atalig completed his presentation on the first day, neither he nor his girlfriend, Evelyn Atalig, attended the remaining days of the conference.

Such acts, O’Malley said, are similar to those alleged in the superseding indictment.

The prosecutor said the superseding indictment and count one contemplates an ongoing scheme which includes the two additional trips within the stated timeframe, as well as the trip to Guam that began Jan. 3, 2018.

He said the evidence therefore is intrinsic to proving the existence of a scheme and Efraim M. Atalig’s participation.

O’Malley said the U.S. government has alleged an ongoing conspiracy wherein Efraim M. Atalig, acting in his official capacity as Rota mayor, abused his position by improperly authorizing travel for himself and others, particularly his girlfriend.

O’Malley said most, if not all of the travel authorizations that Efraim M. Atalig signed, described the purpose of the travel as in “best interest of the CNMI” or words to that effect.

He pointed out that the U.S. government intends to prove, however, that the motive and intent for the trips was first and foremost to serve the Ataligs’ private interests.

“This will be evidenced by a plan or modus operandi wherein defendants used an arguably legitimate purpose to conceal what were, in fact, either improper political campaign trips and/or de facto vacations, all at taxpayer expense,” he said.

O’Malley said the U.S. government believes Efraim M. Atalig will attempt to argue that each trip had a legitimate purpose; that any excess days were due to circumstances beyond his control; that claiming per diem for those days was an innocent mistake; and that his participation in political campaign activities during some trips was mere coincidence.

O’Malley said evidence about additional trips is intertwined with proving that these were not isolated events involving innocent mistakes, but, rather, part of a long-running scheme that lasted eight months or more.

He noted that even if the court finds that evidence regarding the additional trips is not “inextricably intertwined” with the underlying charged offenses, it is admissible in order to prove motive, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, or absence of mistake or accident.

O’Malley said although there are several hundred pages of discovery relating to the additional trips, the evidence at trial will be much more limited.

“It is in the government’s interest to present this evidence in a manner that does not confuse the issues, mislead the jury, cause an undue delay or waste time,” he said.

The Ataligs are indicted on five corruption charges for arranging CNMI government-funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan under fraudulent pretenses.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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