Ex Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez charged with bribery

Ex Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez charged with bribery

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Former Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez was arrested Thursday on bribery costs associated to the financing of her 2020 election marketing campaign, the most recent blow to an island with a protracted historical past of corruption. which generated a brand new political turmoil within the nation. US territory.

Vázquez is accused of collaborating in a bribery scheme from December 2019 to June 2020, whereas she was governor, with numerous individuals, together with a Venezuelan-Italian financial institution proprietor, a former FBI agent, a financial institution president and a advisor. political.

“I’m harmless. I’ve not dedicated any crime,” he instructed reporters. “I guarantee you that you’ve got dedicated an excellent injustice in opposition to me.”

The arrest embarrassed and angered many in Puerto Rico who imagine the island’s already shaky picture has been additional tarnished, leaving a rising quantity of people that have misplaced religion of their native officers to surprise if federal authorities are their solely hope to eradicate entrenched authorities corruption. . Issues about earlier corruption circumstances led to a delay in federal help for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, because the US authorities put extra safeguards in place.

Thursday’s arrest was additionally a blow to Vazquez’s pro-statehood New Progressive Social gathering, which is pushing to carry a referendum subsequent yr in a bid to turn into the 51st US state.

Vázquez, 62, was the second lady to function governor of Puerto Rico and the primary former governor to face federal costs. Former Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, of the opposition Widespread Democratic Social gathering, was charged with marketing campaign finance violations whereas in workplace and was discovered not responsible in 2009. He had been the primary governor of Puerto Rico to be charged with against the law in latest historical past. .

“For the second time in our historical past, political energy and public workplace are used to finance an electoral marketing campaign,” mentioned José Luis Dalmau, president of Acevedo’s get together. “Utilizing the facility of the federal government to advance political agendas is unacceptable and an affront to democracy in Puerto Rico.”

Vazquez’s advisor, recognized as John Blakeman, and the financial institution’s president, recognized as Frances Diaz, have pleaded responsible to collaborating within the bribery scheme, in keeping with the US Justice Division.

Firstly of 2019, the worldwide financial institution owned by Julio Martín Herrera Velutini was being investigated by the Workplace of the Commissioner of Monetary Establishments of Puerto Rico attributable to transactions that the authorities thought-about suspicious and had not been reported by the financial institution.

Authorities mentioned Herrera and Mark Rossini, the previous FBI agent who supplied consulting providers to Herrera, allegedly promised to financially assist Vázquez’s 2020 marketing campaign for governor in trade for Vázquez eradicating the commissioner and appointing a brand new certainly one of Herrera’s selecting.

Authorities mentioned Vázquez accepted the bribe provide and in February 2020 demanded the commissioner’s resignation. She was then accused of appointing a former Herrera financial institution advisor as the brand new commissioner in Might 2020. After the transfer, officers mentioned Herrera and Rossini paid greater than $300,000 to political consultants to assist Vázquez’s marketing campaign.

A flurry of messages exchanged throughout that point between individuals concerned within the case included a coronary heart emoji connected to the commissioner’s resignation letter and three sealed lips emojis when somebody supplied Rossi’s title to Vázquez, who requested the title of Rossi. “the man from the FBI.” As well as, Herrera texted Rossini in regards to the want for a marketing campaign supervisor and mentioned he did not need “a monkey from Puerto Rico.”

After Vázquez misplaced the first to incumbent Governor Pedro Pierluisi, authorities mentioned Herrera allegedly tried to bribe Pierluisi to finish an audit of his financial institution on favorable phrases. Herrera is accused of utilizing intermediaries from April 2021 to August 2021 to supply a bribe to Pierluisi’s consultant, who was truly performing underneath orders from the FBI, in keeping with the indictment.

Authorities mentioned Herrera then ordered a $25,000 fee to a political motion committee in hopes of attempting to bribe Pierluisi.

Stephen Muldrow, federal prosecutor for Puerto Rico, mentioned Pierluisi just isn’t concerned within the case.

Vazquez, Herrera and Rossini are charged with conspiracy, bribery of federal packages and trustworthy providers wire fraud. If convicted on all counts, they might withstand 20 years in jail, authorities mentioned.

In the meantime, Diaz and Blakeman may withstand 5 years in jail, authorities mentioned.

Muldrow mentioned officers imagine Herrera is within the UK and Rossini in Spain. It was unclear whether or not the US would search to extradite them.

Rossini resigned from the FBI in November 2008 as a part of a plea deal by which he pleaded responsible to criminally accessing a confidential FBI database for private functions. Lots of the searches had been associated to Anthony Pellicano, an notorious superstar non-public eye who was charged in 2006 with tapping the telephones of sure stars and bribing a police officer.

Attorneys for the opposite suspects charged within the case couldn’t be instantly reached for remark.

In mid-Might, Vázquez’s lawyer instructed reporters that he and his shopper had been making ready for doable costs, as the previous governor on the time denied any wrongdoing.

Vázquez was sworn in as governor in August 2019 after former Governor Ricardo Rosselló resigned following large protests. He served till 2021, after dropping the New Progressive Social gathering major for statehood to Pierluisi.

In a press release Thursday, Pierluisi mentioned his administration will work with federal authorities to assist struggle corruption.

“Nobody is above the legislation in Puerto Rico,” he mentioned. “Confronted with this information that definitely impacts and damages the arrogance of our individuals, I reiterate that in my administration we’ll proceed to have a standard entrance with the federal authorities in opposition to anybody who commits an improper act, wherever they arrive from or whoever they’re. Can suggest”.

Vázquez beforehand served because the island’s lawyer normal and district lawyer for greater than 30 years.

She turned governor after the Supreme Court docket of Puerto Rico dominated that the swearing-in of Pierluisi, who had solely been nominated as secretary of state, as governor was unconstitutional. Vázquez on the time mentioned that she was not focused on operating for the place and that she would solely end the practically two years remaining in Rosselló’s time period.

Rosselló had resigned in late July 2019 after tens of hundreds of Puerto Ricans took to the streets, angered by corruption, mismanagement of public funds and an obscenity-filled chat by which he and 11 different males, together with public officers, made enjoyable of girls and homosexuals. and victims of Hurricane Maria, amongst others.

Shortly after being sworn in, Vázquez instructed the AP that his priorities had been combating corruption, securing federal hurricane restoration funds and serving to raise Puerto Rico out of a deep financial disaster as the federal government struggled to emerge from chapter.

In the course of the interview, she instructed the AP that she had lengthy wished to be in public service: As a toddler, she would stand on her balcony and maintain imaginary trials, all the time convicting alleged defendants.

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