Thursday in San Juan, former governor of Puerto Rico Wanda Vzquez departs a court after being granted bail. hide caption Alejandro Granadillo/AP
switch to caption Alejandro Granadillo/AP
Thursday in San Juan, former governor of Puerto Rico Wanda Vzquez departs a court after being granted bail.
Author: Alejandro Granadillo Puerto Rico’s SAN JUAN The latest blow to an island with a long history of corruption, former governor of Puerto Rico Wanda Vzquez’s arrest on Thursday on bribery allegations related to the financing of her 2020 campaign brought new political turmoil to the U.S. territory.
While serving as governor from December 2019 to June 2020, Vzquez is suspected of participating in a bribery plot with a number of individuals, including a Venezuelan-Italian bank owner, a former FBI agent, a bank president, and a political consultant.
“I’m not guilty. I have never broken any laws “She informed the press. They have done me a big injustice, I can promise you of that.
NATIONAL IN PUERTO RICO, ELECTED OFFICIALS’ ARRESTS WORSEN TRUST IN GOVERNMENT IN PUERTO RICO, ELECTED OFFICIALS’ ARRESTS WORSEN TRUST IN GOVERNMENT andlt; iframe src=”https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1098585366/1098585367 width size=”100%” hei “ht=”290″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” NPR audio player embedded title Transcript for andgt
Many people in Puerto Rico were embarrassed and incensed by the arrest, believing that the island’s already tarnished reputation had been made worse. A growing number of people who had previously had faith in their local officials are now wondering whether the federal government is their only hope of eradicating systemic government corruption. Federal assistance for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria was delayed as a result of concerns over prior corruption cases and the implementation of additional safeguards by the U.S. administration.
The arrest on Thursday was also a setback for Vzquez’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party, which wants to hold a vote to become the 51st state in the union next year.
NATIONAL Vzquez was Puerto Rico’s second female governor and the first to be charged with a federal offense. Anbal Acevedo Vil, a former governor from the opposition Popular Democratic Party, was accused of breaking the law on campaign finance while in office but was acquitted in 2009. He was the first governor of Puerto Rico to face criminal charges in recent memory.
According to Jos Luis Dalmau, the leader of Acevedo’s party, “for the second time in our history, political power and public office are used to finance an electoral campaign.” “Using the government’s authority to further political goals is unacceptable and an insult to Puerto Rico’s democracy,”
The COVID-19 curfew will be extended on May 21, 2020, according to a news conference given by the then-Gov. Wanda Vzquez in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Caption hidden by Carlos Giusti/AP
switch to caption Carlos Giusti/AP
Then- In San Juan, Puerto Rico, Governor Wanda Vzquez holds a press conference to declare that the COVID-19 curfew will remain in effect until May 21, 2020.
AAP Carlos Giusti The bank president and Vzquez’s consultant, John Blakeman and Frances Daz, respectively, have admitted to taking part in the bribery scheme, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The international bank owned by Julio Martn Herrera Velutini was under investigation in the early months of 2019 by Puerto Rico’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions due to transactions that authorities thought were suspicious but that the bank had not reported.
According to the authorities, Herrera and Mark Rossini, a former FBI agent who worked as Herrera’s consultant, reportedly agreed to contribute money to Vzquez’s 2020 campaign for governor in exchange for Vzquez removing the commissioner and replacing him with a replacement of Herrera’s choosing.
Authorities claim that after accepting the payment, Vzquez called for the commissioner’s resignation in February 2020. In May 2020, she was accused of choosing a former consultant for Herrera’s bank to serve as the new commissioner. After the change, officials claimed Herrera and Rossini paid political advisers more than $300,000 to boost Vzquez’s campaign.
A heart emoji was attached to the resignation letter of the commissioner, and three sealed lips emojis were sent when Rossi’s name was given to Vzquez, who had asked for the name of “the person from the FBI,” in a flurry of texts sent between those engaged in the case during that time. Herrera also texted Rossini about the requirement for a campaign manager and expressed his displeasure with “a monkey from Puerto Rico.”
Authorities claim Herrera then reportedly tried to pay current governor Pedro Pierluisi to halt an audit into his bank on favorable terms after Vzquez lost the primary to Pierluisi. According to the indictment, Herrera is accused of employing middlemen between April 2021 and August 2021 to offer a bribe to Pierluisi’s representative, who was actually carrying out FBI instructions.
Herrera allegedly ordered a $25,000 payment to a political action group after that in an effort to bribe Pierluisi, according to NATIONAL officials.
According to Stephen Muldrow, the U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico, Pierluisi is not a party to the dispute.
Allegations of conspiracy, federal program bribery, and honest services wire fraud have been brought against Vzquez, Herrera, and Rossini. According to officials, if they are found guilty on all counts, they may spend up to 20 years behind bars.
According to officials, Daz and Blakeman might spend up to five years in prison.
According to Muldrow, authorities think Rossini is in Spain and Herrera is in the United Kingdom. It was unclear whether the United States will try to extradite them.
Vzquez’s spokesperson Juan Rosado-Reyns told the AP that he was unable to comment right away.
The other individuals charged in the case’s attorneys were not immediately available for comment.
As the former governor at the time denied any wrongdoing, Vzquez’s lawyer informed reporters in mid-May that he and his client were getting ready for potential charges: “I can tell the people of Puerto Rico that I have not committed any crime, that I have not engaged in any illegal or incorrect conduct, as I have always said.”
After Ricardo Rossell, the previous governor, resigned in the wake of significant protests, Vzquez was sworn in as governor in August 2019. She held office until 2021 despite losing to Pierluisi in the New Progressive Party’s statehood-supporting primary.
Pierluisi said in a statement on Thursday that his government would cooperate with federal law enforcement in the fight against corruption.
In Puerto Rico, he declared, “No one is above the law.” “Faced with this news, which undoubtedly damages and lacerates the faith of our people, I stress that in my administration we will continue to have a common front with federal authorities against anyone who does an unlawful act, regardless of where it comes from or who it may involve.”
Previously, Vzquez worked for more than 30 years as a district attorney and the island’s justice secretary.
She was elected governor after the Puerto Rico Supreme Court decided that Pierluisi’s inauguration as governor in 2019 while he was secretary of state was unlawful. At the time, Vzquez declared she had no interest in running for office and would just serve out the roughly two years Rossell had left on his tenure.
After tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets in protest of corruption, poor use of public funds, and an obscenity-laced conversation in which he and 11 other men, including public officials, made fun of, among other things, women, gay people, and Hurricane Maria victims, Rossell resigned.
Vzquez told the AP shortly after taking office that her top priorities were to combat corruption, obtain federal hurricane relief monies, and aid Puerto Rico in overcoming its severe economic problems while the island’s government worked to exit bankruptcy.
She revealed to the AP during the interview that she had always wanted to work in government because as a child, she used to hold fictitious trials on her balcony and always find the alleged criminals guilty.