Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig has asked the U. S. District Court for the NMI to continue the trial of their case to until the related criminal case pending before the Superior Court is resolved as to his seven co-defendants.
In a motion for continuance of trial filed Wednesday, Atalig, through counsel David G. Banes, said the seven co-defendants are essential for his defense in the federal case because of their anticipated exculpatory testimony.
Exculpatory refers to evidence favorable to the defendant in a criminal case that tends to exonerate the defendant of guilt.
Evelyn Atalig, through counsel Steven Pixley, joined in Atalig’s motion for continuance.
The seven co-defendants are Dean A. Manglona, Dennis C. Mendiola, Dexter T. Apatang, Eusebio B. Manglona, Josepha B. Manglona, Magdalena SN Mesngon, and Vanessa G. Charfauros.
Banes said the Superior Court case is currently scheduled for a bench trial for March 30, 2020, which should then make the co-defendants available to testify in the federal court case.
The federal court case is set for trial on March 10.
The lawyer said the bench trial in the local court case is expected to last a week or so, therefore the continuance requested is only for 30 days.
Banes said at least four co-defendants are unavailable because they are still being prosecuted in the Superior Court case.
He said all seven co-defendants have been threatened with federal prosecution and so they are expected to invoke the Fifth Amendment if called to testify at trial in this federal case.
Banes said Mr. Atalig has done everything he could to resolve this by first requesting immunity from both the U.S. government and the CNMI government, and after their refusal, moved the federal court to compel immunization.
With the motion to compel denied, Banes said, the only time the co-defendants may be free to speak is after the CNMI case is resolved.
He said assistant U.S. attorney Eric O’Malley at the motion hearing held last Monday essentially told the court that as of now “most likely” the U.S. government would not prosecute the co-defendants, regardless of the results of the bench trial in the CNMI case.
Therefore, Banes said, the co-defendants can be compelled to testify at trial, once the CNMI case is finished, but not before that.
In the federal case, the charges against the Ataligs involve at least eight trips taken by the couple at different times in 2018 to Guam, Palau, the U.S. mainland, South Korea, and Saipan.
The Ataligs are being charged jointly with wire fraud, theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and federal funds theft.
In the Superior Court case, the Office of the Attorney General charged Mayor Atalig and the seven co-defendants with misconduct in public office.