Rota mayor pleads not guilty

His girlfriend’s hearing is postponed

Re-elected Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig entered a not-guilty plea yesterday in federal court to all charges in a superseding indictment that accused him and his girlfriend, Evelyn Atalig, of making CNMI government-funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan using false pretenses.

Evelyn Atalig’s initial appearance/arraignment that was earlier scheduled for yesterday was postponed to Monday, Dec. 10, at 11am.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona postponed Evelyn Atalig’s hearing yesterday after her lawyer, Steven P. Pixley, and assistant U.S. attorney Eric O’Malley agreed to move the hearing.

Pixley is currently in Guam, handling a separate case.

Evelyn Atalig accompanied Mayor Efraim Atalig at the court hearing yesterday morning.

Mayor Efraim Atalig, through counsel Denny Nie of the O’Connor Berman, Horey, and Banes law firm, pleaded not guilty to four charges—conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from program receiving federal funds, and one count of false statements.

Evelyn Atalig faces the same four charges.

Manglona retained the Jan. 15, 2019, jury trial date that Mayor Efraim Atalig and the prosecution earlier agreed to.

Manglona said she will later address the trial date issue after the defense counsel for both defendants and the prosecution have conferred.

Nie informed the court that he will confer with Pixley as to the trial date.

Manglona said as Mayor Efraim Atalig has been previously released after the original indictment was filed, the terms and conditions of that release shall continue.

Manglona reminded the mayor that he is not allowed to have any contact with witnesses and potential witnesses.

The judge said discussing the merits of the case with witnesses would be crossing the line or an offense of tampering a witness.

Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent Haejun Park is handling the investigation.

According to the superseding indictment, beginning February 2018 and until Aug. 7, 2018, Mayor Efraim Atalig arranged government-funded trips from Rota to San Diego California; Saipan; Palau; and Guam, for himself and other persons, including Evelyn Atalig, by means of false claims.

Mayor Efraim Atalig allegedly signed CNMI government travel authorizations for himself and Evelyn Atalig for those travels.

The TAs cited several purposes of those trips such as “to attend 9th Annual Chamorro Cultural Festival,” “to promote tourism and to attend the 23rd Micronesia Islands Forum and the Flame Tree Festival,” “to promote tourism in Palau, “to go to “DRMO” to look for surplus equipment,” “to attend the Agriculture Fair on Saipan,” and “travel to be performed in the interest of the CNMI government.”

However, the primary, if not the only, purposes of the trips were personal, to engage in political and partisan rally, and not official, according to the indictment.

In addition to plane tickets, the Ataligs allegedly each claimed per diems and other expenses and received money from the CNMI government.

The total amount of payments from the CNMI government exceeded $10,000, according to the indictment.

The original indictment was filed last Aug. 30. It charged Mayor Efraim Atalig with only one count of wire fraud over the Guam political rally. He pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The mayor is facing another case that the Office of the Attorney General filed last Aug. 31, before the Superior Court arising from the same political rally in Guam. In this case, he and seven other Rota municipal officials are being charged with theft and misconduct in public office.

Through his private counsel, Robert O’Connor, Mayor Efraim Atalig had stated that he did nothing wrong and has nothing to apologize for.

Despite the charges, the mayor was re-elected during the Nov. 13, 2018 election.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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