TOP STORIES Former Puerto Rico governor Vande Vazquez has been charged...

Former Puerto Rico governor Vande Vazquez has been charged with bribery.


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Then-Governor Wanda Vazquez gives a press conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico to announce the curfew extension due to COVID-19 on May 21, 2020.

Carlos Giusti / AP

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Carlos Giusti / AP

Then-Governor Wanda Vazquez gives a press conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico to announce the curfew extension due to COVID-19 on May 21, 2020.

Carlos Giusti / AP

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Former Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vasquez was arrested Thursday on charges of bribery related to funding her 2020 campaign, marking the first time a former U.S. territory leader faces federal charges.

Vazquez is accused of participating in a bribery scheme from December 2019 to June 2020 – when she was governor – with several people, including a Venezuelan-Italian bank owner, a former FBI agent, a bank president and a political consultant.

According to the US Department of Justice, a consultant named John Blakeman and a bank president named Francis Diaz pleaded guilty to participating in a bribery scheme.

In early 2019, a bank owned by Julio Martín Herrera Velutini was under scrutiny by the Office of the Financial Institutions Commissioner of Puerto Rico for transactions deemed suspicious by the authorities and which the bank did not report.

Authorities said Herrera and Mark Rossini, a former FBI agent who provided consulting services to Herrera, allegedly promised financial support for Vasquez’s 2020 gubernatorial campaign in exchange for Vasquez firing the commissioner and appointing a new one of Herrera’s choice.

Authorities said Vazquez accepted the bribe offer and in February 2020 demanded the commissioner’s resignation. She was then accused of appointing a former Herrera bank consultant as the new commissioner in May 2020. After the move, officials said Herrera and Rossini paid political consultants more than $300,000 to support Vazquez’s campaign.

After Vazquez lost the primary to current governor Pedro Pierluisi, authorities said Herrera then allegedly tried to bribe Pierluisi to complete his bank audit on favorable terms. According to the indictment, Herrera is accused of using intermediaries from April 2021 to August 2021 to offer a bribe to Pierluisi’s representative, who was actually acting on orders from the FBI.

Officials said Herrera then ordered $25,000 to be paid to a political action committee in the hope of trying to bribe Pierluisi.

Stephen Muldrow, U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico, said Pierluisi was not involved in the case.

Vazquez, Herrera and Rossini are charged with conspiracy, federal bribery and wire fraud. If proven guilty on all counts, they could face up to 20 years in prison, officials said.

Meanwhile, Diaz and Blakeman could face up to five years in prison, according to officials.

Muldrow said officials believe Herrera is in the United Kingdom and Rossini is in Spain. It was unclear whether the US would seek their extradition.

Juan Rosado-Reines, Vazquez’s spokesman, told the AP he had no immediate comment.

Attorneys for the other suspects charged in the case could not be contacted for comment.

In mid-May, Vasquez’s lawyer told reporters that he and his client were preparing for possible charges as the former governor denied any wrongdoing at the time: “I can tell the people of Puerto Rico that I did not commit any crime, that I did not any illegal or improper behavior, as I have always said.”

Vazquez was the second woman to serve as governor of Puerto Rico and the first former governor to face federal charges. Former governor Aníbal Acevedo Vila was charged with campaign finance violations while in office and was found not guilty in 2009. He was the first governor of Puerto Rico to be charged with a crime in recent history.

Vasquez was sworn in as governor in August 2019 after former governor Ricardo Rossello resigned following widespread protests. She served until 2021, after she lost the pro-statehood New Progressive Party primary to Pierluisi.

In a statement Thursday, Pierluisi said his administration will work with the federal authorities to fight corruption.

“No one is above the law in Puerto Rico,” he said. “Faced with this news, which certainly affects and undermines the confidence of our people, I reiterate that in my administration we will continue to have a common front with the federal authorities against anyone who commits a wrongful act, regardless of where it comes from or who can matter.”

Vazquez previously served as the island’s secretary of justice and district attorney for over 30 years.

She became governor after Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court ruled that the swearing in of Pierluisi, who was secretary of state in 2019, as governor was unconstitutional. Vazquez said at the time that she was not interested in running for president and would only finalize nearly two years left before the end of Rossello’s term.

Rossello resigned after tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets, outraged by corruption, mismanagement of public funds and obscene chat in which he and 11 other men, including government officials, ridiculed women, gays and victims of the hurricane. Mary, among others.

Shortly after she was sworn in, Vazquez told the AP that her priorities were fighting corruption, securing federal hurricane recovery funds, and helping Puerto Rico emerge from a deep economic crisis as the government struggled to emerge from bankruptcy. .

During an interview, she told the AP that she had long wanted to be in public service: as a child, she stood on her balcony and staged imaginary trials, always finding the alleged defendants guilty.

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