Rota mayor’s lawyer: Additional trips did not prove ‘MO’

THE three additional trips made by Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig did not prove a “modus operandi,” Atalig’s attorney David Banes told the federal court.

Mayor Atalig has been accused of arranging CNMI-government funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan under fraudulent pretenses. His girlfriend, Evelyn Atalig, is a co-defendant.

Efraim M. Atalig

In a superseding indictment, the U.S. government charged them with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from a program receiving federal funds, and two counts of false statements in Nov.  2018.

The prosecution wants to introduce as part of the evidence three additional trips not included in the superseding indictment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O’Malley stated that the travel authorizations signed by the Rota mayor were his “modus operandi.” The mayor “used an arguably legitimate purpose to conceal what were, in fact, either improper political campaign trips and or de facto vacations, all at taxpayers’ expense,” the prosecutor said.

But according to Banes, the U.S. government has not presented any information showing that the three additional trips are “inextricably intertwined with the charges or tend to prove a material point.”

Nor has the U.S. government made the showing that there is sufficient evidence proving the three additional trips involved fraudulent conduct, Banes added.

“The [U.S.] government itself is unable to explain how the three additional trips can be linked to the five charged trips without resorting to a propensity-based inference” which is “highly prejudicial and outright prohibited,” Banes said.

In Superior Court, the CNMI government has accused Mayor Atalig and seven of his resident directors of taking government-funded per diem and salary compensation to attend a Republican rally on Guam on June 23, 2018.

The eight were charged with theft and misconduct in public office by the Office of the Attorney General and were also accused of performing illegal acts under the color of office. All defendants have pled not guilty to the charges.