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Jury selection in trial of Rota mayor, girlfriend starts today

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ALMOST two years after he was indicted, the jury selection for the trial of Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig and co-defendant Evelyn Atalig will begin today, Tuesday, at the new federal courthouse at 10 a.m.

At the request of attorney David Banes, who represents Mayor Atalig, a status conference hearing was held on Monday afternoon to address a concern regarding “a personal health issue of someone.”

Banes had no objection to discuss the issue in open court, but before he could go any further District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona told the parties that the discussion would continue in her chambers.

Asked about it after the hearing, Banes declined to comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O’Malley, for his part, noted that the defense has subpoenaed the full employee records of the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Public Auditor investigators involved in the case.

Attorney Steven Pixley, who represents Evelyn Atalig, told the court that the documents being subpoenaed will be used for the impeachment of key government witnesses and investigators.

O’Malley said he will file a motion to quash the subpoena in part, saying that the “subpoena is so broad and the return date for those documents are 4:30 a.m. tomorrow [today].”

O’Malley requested that the date of the return be pushed back, which was granted by Judge Manglona who set a hearing for Aug. 14 at 3:30 p.m.

The judge also granted Banes’s request  for the authorization of travel advance for off-island witnesses “who are important and necessary defense witnesses.”

Mayor Atalig and  Evelyn Atalig were charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from program receiving federal funds, and two counts of false statements.

They are accused of arranging CNMI government-funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan from Feb. 2018 to Aug. 2018.

In CNMI Superior Court, Mayor Atalig and seven other Rota officials were charged with misconduct in public office.

The CNMI Attorney General’s Office stated that the defendants took government-funded per diem and salary compensation to attend a Republican campaign rally on Guam on June 23, 2018.

Because his co-defendants have resolved their case through plea agreements or participation in an adult diversion program, the mayor is now the only remaining defendant in the local case.

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