Former Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez was arrested by the FBI on Thursday and charged with accepting bribes from a marketing campaign donor whereas in workplace and appointing a regulatory official of her selection in alternate for financing her marketing campaign.
Ms. Vazquez, 62, was arrested at her house after a grand jury indicted her.
The donor, Julio M. Herrera Velutini, a Venezuelan banker who has been embroiled in regulatory issues in Puerto Rico, was additionally charged. Herrera, 50, owns Bancrédito, a world financial institution that has confronted scrutiny from Puerto Rico regulators for suspicious banking transactions.
In keeping with the Justice Division, Herrera needed the island’s fundamental banking regulator changed and, in return, provided to pay $300,000 to political consultants engaged on the governor’s marketing campaign. Ms. Vázquez, who was going through re-election on the time, agreed to the plan, mentioned W. Stephen Muldrow, the US Legal professional for Puerto Rico, including that Mr. Herrera later shaped a political motion committee for Mrs. Vazquez.
The 42-page grand jury indictment particulars conferences and textual content messages that purported to point out the quid-pro-quo nature of the deal. The governor saved her finish of the cut price, forcing the incumbent banking commissioner to resign and putting in Mr. Herrera’s selection as the brand new commissioner, in keeping with the indictment.
To disguise the “unlawful and corrupt objective of the bribes,” Mr. Herrera’s funds have been channeled by means of Mark T. Rossini, who served as Mr. Herrera’s adviser and is accused of facilitating the association, the Division of Justice mentioned. Justice.
Mr. Rossini, 60, is a former FBI supervisory agent who, previous to the 9/11 assaults, was assigned to a CIA process drive investigating al Qaeda, however was criminally charged with conducting searches unauthorized unlawful knowledge on a authorities pc. After pleading responsible to these fees, he paid a superb and accomplished group service and one yr of probation.
The previous governor, banker and former federal agent have been charged with conspiracy, bribery of federal packages and trustworthy companies wire fraud, and will resist 20 years in jail if convicted, Muldrow mentioned.
Two extra individuals concerned within the bribery scheme, the president of the financial institution and one in every of Ms. Vazquez’s marketing campaign advisers, have pleaded responsible to conspiracy and can every resist 5 years in jail.
Ms. Vázquez spoke to reporters Thursday exterior the federal courtroom in San Juan, the place she was launched on $50,000 bond. Normally wearing type when she is out in public, Ms. Vázquez appeared like somebody who had been dragged off the bed.
“I reiterate to the individuals and to all of you: I’m harmless,” mentioned Ms. Vázquez. “I’ve not dedicated any crime or any irregularity. Now it is my flip to defend myself. I guarantee you that they’ve dedicated a terrific injustice towards me.
Her lawyer, Luis Plaza, mentioned she was not accused of personally receiving any bribe cash.
“Not even the indictment alleges that she received a penny wealthy,” Plaza mentioned.
The previous governor’s arrest coincides with a wave of unrelated public corruption circumstances on the island, together with the arrests of 9 mayors thus far this yr.
Ms. Vázquez was the Commonwealth’s high prosecutor in 2019 when large protests drove Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló from workplace. The island has no lieutenant governor, and the primary place within the line of succession, secretary of state, was vacant on the time, so Rosselló’s resignation unexpectedly catapulted Ms. Vázquez to the governorship. A Republican and member of the island’s pro-statehood social gathering, she served for lower than two years, finishing Rosselló’s time period however dropping her bid for re-election when she was defeated within the 2020 main.
Federal prosecutors mentioned that when Ms. Vázquez misplaced the first, Mr. Herrera tried to supply a bribe to the winner, incumbent Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi. However the one that represented Mr. Pierluisi within the scheme was truly working undercover for the FBI.
In Might, Ms. Vázquez gathered reporters on the workplace of her lawyer, Mr. Plaza, to announce that she was underneath investigation. She then described the investigation as a “technical” difficulty that they might combat in courtroom.
“We’re going to litigate and we’re going to win,” Plaza, a former prosecutor, mentioned in Might.
In November 2018, when she was the island’s secretary of justice, Ms. Vázquez confronted allegations that she had improperly intervened on behalf of her daughter and son-in-law in a case associated to the theft of their residence. Ms. Vázquez was briefly suspended from her place because the investigation unfolded. However she was later cleared of any moral violations within the case by a choose who mentioned there was inadequate proof towards her.
Earlier than turning into the highest prosecutor, Ms. Vázquez headed Puerto Rico’s girls’s affairs workplace, the place she typically clashed with girls’s advocacy teams who mentioned she wasn’t doing sufficient to fight home violence.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors mentioned Herrera was in London and Rossini in Spain, and efforts could be made to extradite them.
Makes an attempt to succeed in Mr. Rossini for remark have been unsuccessful.
Luis Delgado, Herrera’s lawyer, mentioned his shopper denied the allegations detailed within the indictment.
“They have been faux. There have been no marketing campaign contributions as they allege,” Delgado mentioned. “We stay up for addressing them in a courtroom of regulation.”
The financial institution that Herrera owns issued a press release saying he had resigned as president and member of the board of administrators.
“The financial institution continues to function usually and to work intently with Puerto Rico and federal banking authorities,” mentioned Gregorio D’Andrea, chief working officer, in a press release.
Corey R. Amundson, chief of the Justice Division’s Public Integrity Part, mentioned the case was one in every of a string of current corruption circumstances throughout the nation, together with Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina, involving businessmen.
“We can’t and won’t flip a blind eye to the important position performed by corrupt members of the company world in making this corruption attainable and offering the alternatives,” he mentioned at a information convention in San Juan on Thursday. “They have to be held accountable and they are going to be held accountable.”
Governor Pierluisi mentioned Thursday that the arrest of his predecessor confirmed that “no one is above the regulation in Puerto Rico.”
Though Muldrow repeatedly emphasised that the present governor is just not charged with any crime, Pierluisi’s marketing campaign has confronted authorized issues of its personal.
The chairman and treasurer of a political motion committee that raised cash for Pierluisi’s marketing campaign pleaded responsible in Might to a scheme to cover the origins of “darkish cash,” the US lawyer’s workplace mentioned. The governor has denied any hyperlink to the PACs.
One other former governor of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, was acquitted of federal corruption fees in 2009.
“Corruption is just not a victimless crime,” mentioned Joseph González, the FBI’s particular agent in cost in Puerto Rico. “The sufferer is the individuals of Puerto Rico.”