Mayor Atalig pleads not guilty
Found not eligible for court-appointed counsel
Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig pleaded not-guilty yesterday to the allegation that he arranged a government-funded trip from Rota to Guam for himself and 12 others on a false claim that he was going to check for surplus equipment at the Naval Base in Guam.
The indictment alleged that Atalig actually went to Guam to participate in a political rally of the GOP last June 23 in Mangilao.
Atalig, through his court-appointed counsel for preliminary matters Bruce Berline, pleaded not guilty to the indictment that charged him with one count of wire fraud.
The punishment for this offense is between zero and 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona set Atalig’s jury trial for Oct. 16, 2018, at 10am.
There will be a status conference on Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 1:30pm.
Manglona allowed the 57-year-old Atalig to appear via telephone during the status conference.
The judge said that, based on the information that she has received from the U.S. Probation Office, Atalig is not eligible for a court-appointed counsel.
Manglona said Atalig would be able to pay or hire his own lawyer to represent him in the case.
Berline asked the court to proceed with the arraignment. Assistant U.S. attorney James Benedetto did not object. Manglona then proceeded with the arraignment.
Benedetto said the U.S. government does not object to allowing Atalig’s continued release as he is not a flight risk and does not pose a danger to the community.
Manglona authorized Atalig to remain at liberty pending his trial, but prohibited him from leaving the CNMI without the court’s permission.
A few relatives and friends watched the hearing.
Atalig refused to comment to the media about the case. He did not answer the question whether he will pursue his re-election bid considering that he has criminal cases both in federal and local court.
In the Superior Court case, the Office of the Attorney General charged Atalig and seven other municipal officials each with theft and misconduct in public office arising from the same political rally. The defendants’ arraignment in local court is on Sept. 28.