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Fire chief can’t invoke 5th Amendment in Ataligs’ trial, says judge  

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DISTRICT Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona said Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services Commissioner Dennis Mendiola has no valid basis to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege if called to testify in the jury trial of Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig.

The trial is set to begin on Aug. 11, at 10 a.m.

Following an in-camera or in the judge’s chambers hearing on Monday, Judge Manglona said Mendiola will not have a Fifth Amendment right to silence at trial.

Dennis Mendiola

In the November elections, Mendiola is running against the judge’s brother-in-law, Rota Sen. Paul A. Manglona, who is seeking reelection.

Magistrate Judge Heather L. Kennedy issued the summons for Mendiola on Friday and it was served by the U.S. Marshal Service  on Mendiola’s court-appointed counsel Bruce Berline.

It was Mayor Atalig, represented by attorney David Banes, who requested the court to determine if Mendiola could invoke and had a valid basis for asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege if called to testify at trial.

According to an online legal dictionary, to “plead the Fifth,” which is the right against self-incrimination, means the right not to answer questions both while in custody and in court.

Mendiola previously served as Rota DFEMS deputy commissioner and was charged with misconduct in public office with seven other Rota officials, including Mayor Atalig, by the Attorney General’s Office in CNMI Superior Court.

On June 16, 2020, the AG’s office filed a motion to dismiss with prejudice the charge against Mendiola after he agreed to pay restitution and to cooperate with the government.

The CNMI government has accused the Rota officials of taking government-funded per diem and salary compensation to attend  a Republican campaign rally on Guam on June 23, 2018.

Mayor Atalig is now the only remaining defendant in the local case after the other Rota officials resolved their cases through separate plea agreements.

In federal court, Mayor Atalig, and co-defendant, Evelyn Atalig, are accused by the federal government of arranging CNMI government-funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan from Feb. 2018 to Aug. 2018.

The superseding indictment charged the Ataligs with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from program receiving federal funds, and two counts of false statements.

Evelyn Atalig is represented by attorney Steven Pixley.

 

 

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