Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig has renewed his motion for continuance of the trial in his federal case after learning that the U.S. Attorney’s Office offered the unindicted witnesses an informal immunity and not statutory immunity.
Statutory immunity enables a court to compel the testimony of a non-cooperating witness, according to Atalig’s lawyer, David G. Banes, who said that, based on his legal research, he has not found any authority holding that informal immunity provides a basis for a court to, at the request of a person who is not a party to the informal immunity agreement, compel the testimony of a non-cooperating witness.
Banes said informal immunity is governed by ordinary contract principles, and may not offer exactly the same level of assurance as statutory immunity.
In addition, since informal immunity is governed by contract law, the unindicted witnesses can refuse to accept it, leaving Atalig with no remedy, he added.
The unindicted witnesses refer to Atalig’s seven co-defendants in the Superior Court case. They are Vanessa Charfauros, Magdalena Mesngon, Dexter Apatang, Dean Manglona, Eusebio Manglona, Josepha Manglona, and Dennis Mendiola.
Atalig’s original motion for continuance was heard Monday before U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona, during which Banes informed Manglona that a continuance might not be necessary because the unindicted witnesses were expected to receive immunity, and if they refused to testify, could be compelled by the court.
Atalig subsequently filed a request to renew the motion for continuance after Monday’s hearing.
In Atalig’s request to renew motion for continuance, Banes said that, after Monday’s hearing, he learned that the unindicted witnesses received a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office offering them informal immunity. Banes said he was not given a copy of the letter and learned about it only when the lawyer for one of the unindicted witnesses informed him of his concerns about informal immunity.
When he told assistant U.S. attorney Eric O’Malley about his concerns regarding inability to compel testimony based on informal immunity, O’Malley reportedly told him that statutory immunity requires the U.S. Department of Justice’s approval and told him that he has to renew his motion then.
“Out of an abundance of caution, Mr. Atalig hereby renews his motion for continuance because the unindicted witnesses may still be unavailable,” Banes said.
The Office of the Attorney General has agreed to grant “use immunity” to four of seven co-defendants of the mayor in the Superior Court case.
The four defendants are Dean Manglona, Eusebio Manglona, Josepha Manglona, and Dennis Mendiola. They have not resolved their cases.
Three others have already disposed of their cases by plea agreement with the OAG. They are Vanessa Charfauros, Magdalena Mesngon, and Dexter Apatang.
CNMI chief prosecutor John Bradley said “use immunity” refers to protection given the witness from having their testimony used against them.
In the federal court case, Efraim Atalig and his girlfriend, Evelyn Atalig, are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft, wire fraud, theft from program receiving federal funds, and false statement. The jury trial is currently set for Tuesday, March 10.
In the Superior Court case, the OAG charged Efraim Atalig and seven co-defendants with misconduct in public office, which is misdemeanor offense. The bench trial is currently set for March 20.