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The former governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vázquez, was arrested on bribery charges on Thursday, on bribery charges related to the financing of her 2020 campaign, the latest hit to an island with a long history of corruption that brought fresh political upheaval to the U.S. territory, according to the US Department of Justice press release,
62-year-old Vazquez is a Puerto Rican politician and attorney who served as Governor of Puerto Rico from 2019 to 2021. Prior to her tenure as governor, she served as the 19th secretary of Justice from 2017 to 2019, according to her bio.
Vázquez is accused of engaging in a bribery scheme from December 2019 through June 2020 — while she was governor — with several people, including a Venezuelan-Italian bank owner, a former FBI agent, a bank president, and a political consultant.
“I am innocent. I have not committed any crime,” she told reporters. “I assure you that they have committed a great injustice against me.”
“The alleged bribery scheme rose to the highest levels of the Puerto Rican government, threatening public trust in our electoral processes and institutions of governance,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. said. “The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable those who wrongly believe there is one rule of law for the powerful and another for the powerless. No one is above the rule of law.”
“According to the indictment, from December 2019 through June 2020, then-Governor of Puerto Rico Wanda Vazquez Garced, 62, of San Juan, allegedly engaged in a bribery scheme with various individuals, including Julio Martin Herrera Velutini, Frances Diaz, Mark Rossini, and John Blakeman to finance Vazquez Garced’s 2020 gubernatorial election campaign,” the DOJ reported.
“The criminal actions of the defendants, in this case, strike a blow to the heart of our democracy and further erode the confidence of our citizens in their institutions of governance,” U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow said.
“Our resolve to bring to justice those entrusted by the public to serve with integrity and who violate that trust remains steadfast. Equally steadfast is our resolve to prosecute those who seek to use their wealth and power to enrich themselves at the expense of honest government.
I commend the dedication and hard work of the law enforcement personnel and prosecutors in this case, as well as those individuals willing to come forward and cooperate.”
“Herrera Velutini, 50, a dual Venezuelan-Italian citizen residing in London, United Kingdom, owned an international bank operating in San Juan. Diaz, 50, of Puerto Rico was the CEO and President of the international bank owned by Herrera Velutini. Rossini, 60, of Madrid, Spain was a former FBI Special Agent who provided consulting services to Herrera Velutini. Blakeman, 53, of Puerto Rico, is a political consultant who worked on Vazquez Garced’s 2020 campaign,” the DOJ said.
“Public corruption manifests in many different ways,” Special Agent in Charge Joseph González said.
“Those who engage in this illegal conduct often believe they are above the law or fool themselves into believing this is a victimless crime and thus are not doing anything wrong. Our message is and has been clear.
Public corruption erodes the people’s trust in our institutions and fuels civil unrest. As a top priority for the FBI, wherever allegations of public corruption arise, we will investigate. No one is above the law and the victim of this crime, the People, deserve better.”
According to the indictment, beginning in 2019, Herrera Velutini’s bank was the subject of an examination by Puerto Rico’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions (OCIF), a regulatory agency that oversees financial institutions operating in Puerto Rico.
Through intermediaries, Herrera Velutini and Rossini allegedly promised to provide funding to support Vazquez Garced’s 2020 gubernatorial election campaign in exchange for Vazquez Garced terminating the Commissioner of OCIF and appointing a new Commissioner of Herrera Velutini’s choosing.
The indictment alleges that Vazquez Garced accepted the offer of a bribe and, in February 2020, took official action to demand the resignation of OCIF Commissioner A and, in May 2020, to appoint OCIF Commissioner B – a former consultant for the international bank owned by Herrera Velutini – who had been personally selected by Herrera Velutini. In return, Herrera Velutini and Rossini allegedly paid more than $300,000 to political consultants in support of Vazquez Garced’s campaign.
The indictment further alleges that following Vazquez Garced’s primary election loss in August 2020, Herrera Velutini sought to bribe her successor, Public Official A, by offering funding in support of Public Official A’s campaign in exchange for Public Official A ending OCIF’s audit of Herrera Velutini’s bank on terms favorable to Herrera Velutini.
According to the indictment, between April 2021 and August 2021, Herrera Velutini allegedly used intermediaries to convey his offer of a bribe to a witness who held himself out as a representative of Public Official A, but who was in fact acting at the direction of the FBI.
As noted in the indictment, the witness was acting at the direction of the FBI during this timeframe and not actually serving as an intermediary of, or acting on behalf of, Public Official A.
In August 2021, Herrera Velutini allegedly directed a $25,000 payment to a political action committee associated with Public Official A, with the understanding and expectation that Public Official A would resolve OCIF’s audit of Herrera Velutini’s bank in the manner requested by Herrera Velutini.