U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona will allow the U.S. government to introduce evidence relating to three other trips that Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig and his girlfriend took.
In an order Friday, Manglona found that the evidence relating to additional trips is not “other acts” evidence but direct evidence of the crimes charged, and is therefore admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence.
“Whether such evidence is admissible under Rule 403 or should be excluded on grounds of undue delay and needless cumulation is best determined in the context of trial, during which defendants are free to raise it or any other objection under the Federal Rules of Evidence,” she said.
Manglona said she reached the ruling after considering the papers filed about the motion, the testimony of the U.S. government’s witness, Office of the Public Auditor investigator Travis Hurst, and the lawyers’ arguments.
After hearing the motion last March 15, the judge placed the matter under advisement.
Atalig and Evelyn Atalig are charged jointly with wire fraud, theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and federal funds theft. Each of them also faces a separate charge of false statement.
The Ataligs allegedly arranged CNMI government-funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan under fraudulent pretenses.
The U.S. government alleged that the primary purpose of these trips was not official business but personal travel or partisan political activity, for which the Ataligs fraudulently claimed per diem and travel reimbursement.
The superseding indictment lays out a scheme pertaining to five trips—March 2018 to San Diego, California for the annual Chamorro Cultural Festival; April 2018 to Saipan for the Micronesia Islands Forum and Flame Tree Festival; May 2018 to Palau for a man’amko cultural exchange; June 2018 to Guam to look for surplus equipment, which the U.S. government claims was really for a political rally; and August 2018 to Saipan for an agricultural fair but which the prosecution claims was really for political campaign events.
The U.S. government then informed the court that it intends to introduce evidence of three other trips during trial.
The three trips are the Jan. 3 to 7, 2018, trip to Guam for a Chamorro local medicine conference; in late June and early July 2018 to South Korea for a Little League baseball tournament in which a Rota team participated; and July 17 to 22, 2018 to Guam in preparation for the Liberation Day Parade.
Mayor Atalig sought to have those evidences excluded as improper “other acts” evidence or as unfairly prejudicial. Evelyn Atalig joined in the motion.
The U.S. government later said it will seek to introduce evidence of a fourth trip—a July 13 – 15, 2018, trip to Guam for the Asan Landing Memorial ceremony.
In her order last Friday, Manglona said the defendants are not facing separate charges for each individual trip. Rather, a single charge of wire fraud and a single charge of federal funds theft encompass the whole series of trips, she said.
The judge said the superseding indictment clearly put defendants on notice that the charges are “not limited to” the five trips.
Manglona said evidence of other trips taken for personal or political purposes at government expense goes to the existence of a scheme to defraud.
She said it also goes to show the elements of a conspiracy to commit a federal offense.
Manglona said the three additional trips in June and July 2018 are within the time frame of the charged fraudulent scheme and conspiracy.
“Evidence of those trips is direct evidence of the crimes charged,” she said.
Manglona said the Jan. 3-7 trip also is direct evidence.
She noted that the superseding indictment charges that the scheme and conspiracy began “in or about February 2018.”