Court asked to determine whether the testimony of expert witness admissible
The U.S. government has requested the federal court to hold an evidentiary hearing to address whether the testimony of Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig’s proposed expert witness, former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and federal criminal investigator Dr. Gregory Vecchi, is admissible under Federal Rules of Evidence.
Assistant U.S. attorney Eric O’Malley has also asked the U.S. District Court for the NMI to compel Atalig to produce material and information needed to prepare for such hearing.
Last May 19, Atalig and his co-defendant and girlfriend, Evelyn Atalig, provided the prosecution with a 12-page “second supplementary summary of expert testimony of Dr. Vecchi.” O’Malley said the summary briefly reports Vecchi’s qualifications and explains some issues that Vecchi intends to testify. O’Malley said the summaries cite no scientific authority for the proposition that warning interviewees that lying to a federal agent is a crime is more likely to produce a false confession than the truth.
Without this information, Vecchi’s testimony will be no more than a retired agent getting paid to armchair quarterback the work of active investigators, and it should not bear the imprimatur of “expert,” O’Malley said.
He said the summaries indicate that should Office of the Public Auditor investigator Travis Hurst or Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent Haejun Park testify that Efraim and Evelyn Atalig and/or certain unindicted co-conspirators made inculpatory admissions during their interviews, Vecchi will testify that the jury should doubt their credibility because Hurst and Park exhibited “confirmation bias” during the interviews, and had a pattern of failing to comply with internal protocols throughout the investigation. However, O’Malley pointed out, the summaries provide no information about the science, principles, or methodologies upon which Vecchi’s testimony will rely. He said the summaries neither provide nor cite any scholarly test or scientific study that suggests a criminal investigator who fails to comply with internal draft reporting procedures will tend to give unreliable or dishonest testimony. Nor do the summaries explain how comparing a number of interview reports to subsequent affidavits drafted by the interviewees is a tested, reliable, and generally-accepted method of identifying confirmation bias, he added.
U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona has set the jury trial of the Ataligs on Aug. 4, 2020, instead of July 7, 2020, granting the U.S. government’s request to reset the trial date as the prosecution’s key witness will undergo a three-week training. The Ataligs, through counsel, did not oppose resetting the trial date.
The trial has already been reset several times for many reasons; the recent one being the COVID-19 pandemic.
Manglona also granted the Ataligs’ joint motion to amend their witness list to add Vecchi. David G. Banes, counsel for Efraim Atalig, said that Vecchi is expected to testify that Park’s investigation in this case shows confirmation bias against the Ataligs. Banes said Vecchi is expected to testify that Park improperly influenced and threatened witnesses and failed to conform to accepted investigative standards and practices.
Efraim and Evelyn Atalig are being charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft from program receiving federal funds, wire fraud, and theft from program receiving federal funds. Both are also charged separately with false statement. The charges are related to at least eight trips taken by the couple at different times in 2018 to Guam, Palau, the U.S. mainland, South Korea, and Saipan.