A federal grand jury has indicted Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig after he allegedly arranged a government-funded trip from Rota to Guam for himself and 12 others, including eight municipal employees, on an allegedly false claim that he was going to check for surplus equipment at the Naval Base in Guam. According to the allegation, he actually went there to participate in a partisan political rally last June 23 in Mangilao.
The indictment charged Atalig with one count of wire fraud. It was filed last Thursday before the U.S. District Court for the NMI, but designated Judge David O. Carter unsealed the matter last Friday at the request of assistant U.S. attorney James J. Benedetto.
Atalig was not arrested; he was only summoned to appear in the U.S. District Court for the NMI for his initial appearance hearing on Wednesday at 1:30pm.
As this developed, the Office of the Attorney General also filed Friday criminal charges in Superior Court against 57-year-old Atalig and seven others Rota municipal officials in connection with the Guam political rally.
The seven defendants are Labor Department resident director Dexter Apatang, 46; Public Works Department resident director Vanessa Charfauros, 42; Commerce Department resident director Dean Manglona, 35; Public Safety Department resident director Eusebio Manglona, 43; resident director for the Department of Finance Josepha Manglona, 56; resident deputy commissioner for the Department of Fire and Emergency and Medical Services Dennis Mendiola, 38; and resident director for the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Magdalena Mesngon, 49.
In the local court case, the information charged Atalig and the seven other co-defendants each with theft and misconduct in public office.
A Saipan Tribune source disclosed that the OAG issued penal summons against Atalig and his seven co-defendants to appear for an arraignment on Sept. 28, 2018.
Beginning in June 2018, Atalig allegedly arranged a government-funded trip from Rota to Guam for himself and 12 other persons, including Rota municipal employees, by means of false claims and under fraudulent pretenses.
According to seven of the 10 CNMI government travel authorizations signed by Atalig, the purpose of the trip was to go to “DRMO” at the Naval Base Guam to look for surplus equipment and “travel to be performed in the interest of the CNMI gov’t,” according to Benedetto in the indictment.
DRMO refers to a U.S. Department of Defense office formerly known as the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, but now called DLA Disposition Services.
One function of DRMO is to sell surplus and used federal equipment.
During the trip, Benedetto said, Atalig did not go to DRMO at all. He said no participant on the trip made an advance appointment with DRMO, as was required.
He said the true purpose of the trip was to participate in a partisan political rally held last June 23 in Mangilao.
Atalig also allegedly authorized payments using government funds to pay per diems and other expenses for himself and up to eight people, as well as to charter two roundtrip air flights from Rota to Guam, departing last June 20 and returning last June 25. The total amount of payments allegedly exceeded $10,000 in CNMI government funds for per diems, airfare, and other expenses, for Atalig and up to eight people.
Benedetto said federal and CNMI law restricts the use of public funds, time, personnel, or equipment for political or campaign activity, according to the indictment.
Atalig, a Republican, is seeking re-election.
Last June 6, Atalig allegedly sent an email using email address email@example.com to firstname.lastname@example.org, reserving two charter flights from Rota to Guam.
If he is convicted, Atalig will forfeit to the U.S. the money equal to the total value of proceeds from the commission of the offense.
In the local court case, assistant attorney general Heather P. Barcinas stated in the information that the alleged offenses happened between June 20 and 25, 2018, on Rota.
Atalig allegedly used the Rota Imprest Fund to charter two planes valued at $6,553 for himself, several public officials, and his family to travel from Rota to Guam and return to Rota.
Atalig allegedly used police services to provide security for himself valued at $408, took government per diem in the amount of $1,015, and claimed $865 in salary compensation to attend the Republican campaign rally on Guam last June 23.
Atalig and the seven other co-defendants, as public officials, allegedly “performed illegal acts under the color of office.”
Apatang allegedly took government per diem in the amount of $400, and claimed $519 in salary compensation; Charfauros $400 in per diem and $519 in salary compensation; Dean Manglona 1,196 in per diem and $519 in salary compensation; Eusebio Manglona $1,268 in per diem and $519 in salary compensation; Josepha Manglona $938 in per diem and $519 in salary compensation; Dennis Manglona $918 in per diem and $519 in salary compensation; and Mesngon $1,253 in per diem and $519 in salary compensation.