The previous governor of Puerto Rico has been arrested by the FBI, her lawyer says



CNN

Former Governor of Puerto Rico Wanda Vazquez was arrested Thursday in San Juan on bribery charges related to her 2020 election. campaign finance, the US Department of Justice said.

Vázquez is the first former governor to face federal charges. And the political scandal is the latest to rock the island, which is still recovering nearly five years after the destruction Hurricane Maria.

One of her attorneys, Peter John Porrata, told CNN that Vazquez will plead not guilty to the charges. She was released on bail after a brief hearing on Thursday.

“I am innocent and a great injustice has been committed,” Vázquez told reporters after her release. “I have not committed any crime.”

Vázquez’s former political consultant and international bank president pleaded guilty to participating in the bribery scheme, according to the DOJ’s statement.

A former FBI agent and the owner of an international bank based in San Juan were also involved in the alleged scheme, federal officials say.

According to the DOJ, as of 2019 December. until 2020 in June The 62-year-old former governor allegedly orchestrated the conspiracy to fund her gubernatorial campaign.

Vázquez allegedly received more than $300,000 from two businessmen to fund political consultants during his campaign, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Stephen Muldrow told reporters Thursday.

Vazquez and others are charged with conspiracy, federal program bribery and honest services fraud.

The former governor, who is named on three of the seven charges, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

“The alleged bribery scheme has reached the highest levels of the Puerto Rican government, threatening public confidence in our electoral processes and governing institutions,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. said in a statement.

The alleged bribes were paid in exchange for Vázquez’s appointment to the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions, which benefited the businessmen involved in the scheme, Muldrow said.

The indictment alleges that the owner of an international bank and his consultant, a former FBI agent, agreed to fund Vázquez’s campaign in exchange for her replacing the island’s top banking regulator with one of her choosing. At the time, the bank was “under investigation by a regulatory agency,” according to federal prosecutors.

Muldrow said the island’s current governor, who defeated Vázquez in the election, was not involved in the scheme.

Vázquez, a former justice secretary, served as governor of the US territory from 2019 to 2021. She was appointed after former governor Ricardo Rosselló was forced to resign following island protests against his government.

She became the Secretary of Justice in 2017. in January with a mandate that included fighting corruption on the island and was an ally of Rosselló.

in 2018 Vazquez has come under fire for allegedly intervening on her daughter’s behalf in a home burglary case. She was accused of violating government ethics laws. However, a judge later ruled that there was not enough evidence to arrest her.

Vázquez’s brief tenure as governor was controversial.

Her ties to the disgraced former governor have come under scrutiny. Critics have accused her of not opening investigations into members of her own party, particularly the actions of Rossello and his administration in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

in 2020 In January, Puerto Ricans took to the streets of San Juan to call for her resignation after Hurricane Maria supplies were found in a warehouse in Ponce more than two years after the storm.

Later that year, Puerto Rican officials confirmed that Vásquez was under investigation for allegedly misusing resources to mitigate earthquake damage on the island.

Mayra Velez Serrano, a political science professor at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, said Thursday that many people on the island were shocked by the arrest, but not entirely surprised.

“The fact that a former secretary of justice … and a former governor who is married to a judge, that she was involved in something of this nature and that she was arrested is still shocking,” Velez said. “This continues to undermine public confidence in the political system and its politicians and the two main parties.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, who was elected governor after defeating Vásquez in the primary, said Thursday: “My administration has zero tolerance for corruption.”

“Today we see once again that no one is above the law in Puerto Rico,” Pierluisi, a member of the same Commonwealth party as Vásquez, said on Twitter.

The arrest “definitely affects and violates the trust of our people,” the governor said.

“I reiterate that in my administration, we will continue to maintain a common front with the federal government against anyone who engages in wrongdoing,” the governor said.

“Regardless of where it comes from and who it involves, I will also promote initiatives and continue the bills I introduced to fight corruption,” he said.

in 2019 Rosselló chose Pierluisi as his successor.

His the short term is over just five days after Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court declared its governor unconstitutional.

Vázquez was later sworn in. “In light of the decision of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, I must step aside and support the Secretary of Justice of Puerto Rico,” Pierluisi said at the time.

Pierluisi then won the election for the seat in 2020. in November.

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