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By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, March 6) - A U.S. Federal jury found a former Rota labor official guilty of conspiracy to submit false claims and make false statements to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

[PIR editor’s note: The island of Rota is the southernmost island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands chain.]

Fermina Atalig was convicted on charges of submitting false statements with regards to the disaster relief applications of Flavian Hocog, Dexter Mendiola, Sydney Rosario, Laurie Ann Weilbacher, Nanette Atalig, Joleen Ramos and Ryan Manglona.

U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands Chief Judge Alex Munson set the sentencing hearing for June 13 at 9 a.m.

The jury started its deliberations on Friday and resumed them Sunday.

Atalig appeared in court yesterday with his counsel G. Anthony Long while U.S. Assistant Attorney Timothy Moran represented the government.

The indictment stated that from about February 2003 until about June 2003, Atalig, "prepared and submitted such applications and aided and abetted in the preparation and submission of such applications knowing that the applicants were not eligible for (Disaster Unemployment Assistance) benefits and that such applications contained materially false and misleading statements, representations and information concerning the eligibility of the respective applicants."

Atalig, at the time, was the director of the labor department’s Division of Employment Services on Rota and was in charge of the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program there during the Typhoon Pongsona disaster assistance period.

Pongsona struck Rota on December 7, 2002, causing substantial destruction.

President Bush later declared Rota a disaster area, and officials of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the municipality of Rota requested assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency including Disaster Unemployment Assistance help for residents of the island.

March 7, 2006

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