August 17, 2020

USA: FBI Arrests Puerto Rico New Progressive Party Rep. María Milagros Charbonier, Family Members In Public Corruption Case. Charges Include Theft, Money Laundering And Obstruction Of Justice.

NBC News
written by Associated Press
Monday August 17, 2020

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — FBI agents on Monday arrested Puerto Rico Rep. María Milagros Charbonier after the legislator who once presided over the island's House Ethics Committee was charged in a public corruption case that officials say also involved her son, husband and an assistant.

U.S. Attorney Stephen Muldrow said it was a simple scheme in which Charbonier allegedly received some $100,000 in bribes and kickbacks after increasing the pay of her assistant, Frances Acevedo, from $800 every two weeks to nearly $3,000, and then received between $1,000 to $1,500 in return for every paycheck.

“It wasn’t very complicated,” he said of the alleged scheme that lasted three years, adding that Acevedo on one occasion placed the cash promised to Charbonier in the legislator’s glove compartment at her request.

Muldrow also accused Charbonier of deleting phone messages related to the alleged corruption.

Charbonier, who earned $2,500 every two weeks as legislator, faces charges including theft, money laundering and obstruction of justice. She is one of Puerto Rico’s most conservative and religious legislators and once sued in an attempt to ban same-sex marriage on the island. Charbonier has served as representative since her election in 2012 but just lost in Sunday’s primaries. Charbonier also previously served as secretary general for the pro-statehood New Progressive Party.

Also charged in the case is Charbonier’s husband, Orlando Montes Rivera, and her son, Orlando Gabriel Montes. It wasn’t immediately clear if they, along with Acevedo, who became Charbonier’s assistant in 2013, had attorneys.

Charbonier is scheduled to appear in federal court on Monday afternoon. A former spokesman said he no longer worked for her and directed calls to her office, which remain unanswered. Charbonier recently said the FBI interviewed her and had seized her phone.

The arrests come as Puerto Rico struggles through a 13-year economic and financial crisis that in part has been blamed on mismanagement and corruption.
NBC News
written by Nicole Acevedo
Wednesday August 12, 2020

The FBI has arrested a seventh person in connection with an ongoing federal fraud probe involving Puerto Rico's former education secretary Julia Keleher, an agency spokesperson confirmed to NBC News.

Aníbal Jover, the former president of Puerto Rico’s Association of Certified Public Accountants, was arrested by federal agents Tuesday morning, said FBI spokesperson Limary Cruz.

"The case does have a gag order, so I cannot comment any further," Cruz told NBC News.

Authorities say Jover, Keleher, former Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head Ángela Ávila-Marrero, businessmen Fernando Scherrer-Caillet and Alberto Velázquez-Piñol as well as education contractors Glenda E. Ponce-Mendoza and Mayra Ponce-Mendoza, who are sisters, participated in an alleged fraud scheme involving $15.5 million in federal funding between 2017 and 2019. They all face nearly 100 counts of money laundering, fraud and other related charges.

Jover pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud charges, his attorney Giovanni Canino told reporters outside the federal prosecutor's office in Puerto Rico Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm completely surprised," said Jover as he rushed out of the building.

According to the probe, Jover paid Velázquez-Piñol, a former government subcontractor, to secure contracts for him with the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration, Puerto Rico's national newspaper El Nuevo Día reported.

Keleher, a native of Philadelphia, drew controversy during her two-year tenure as the island's education secretary. She closed hundreds of schools, citing realities of a shrinking student population. She also implemented the island's first charter school, hoping to expand their presence in Puerto Rico.

A federal grand jury last year returned indictments in the case for three contractors, a former government advisor, Keleher and the former director of Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration. The Ponce-Mendoza sisters have already pleaded guilty, while Keleher’s attorneys have said she is innocent.

Keleher, who resigned in April 2019, is accused of giving school property to a private company in exchange for living in a luxury apartment complex for six months on a $1 lease even though an agreement stipulated a $1,500 monthly rent. Keleher then bought the apartment and received a $12,000 bonus in connection with the purchase when such bonuses rarely exceed $5,000, officials said. Her attorneys have said she is not guilty.

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