Wanda Vázquez was the second woman to serve as governor of Puerto Rico and the first former governor to face federal charges.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Former Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez was arrested on Thursday for corruption related to her 2020 campaign finance, marking the first time a former leader on the island has faced to federal charges.
Two other unidentified people were arrested with her, said an official, who was not authorized to speak about the federal case.
Vázquez is accused of participating in a corruption scheme from December 2019 to June 2020 with several people, including a Venezuelan-Italian bank owner, a former FBI agent, a bank president and a political consultant.
The consultant, identified as John Blakeman, and the bank’s president, identified as Frances Díaz, pleaded guilty to participating in the bribery scheme, according to the US Department of Justice.
In early 2019, the bank owned by Julio Martín Herrera Velutini was under review by Puerto Rico’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions.
Authorities said Herrera and Mark Rossini, the former FBI agent who provided consulting services to Herrera, allegedly promised to financially support Vázquez’s 2020 campaign for governor in exchange for Vázquez firing the commissioner and of the appointment of a new choice of Herrera.
Authorities said Vázquez accepted the bribery offer, and in February 2020 he demanded the commissioner’s resignation. She was later accused of appointing a former Herrera bank consultant as the new commissioner in May 2020. After the move, officials said Herrera and Velutini paid more than $300,000 to political consultants to support the Vazquez campaign.
Juan Rosado-Reynés, a spokesman for Vázquez, told the AP he had no immediate comment.
In mid-May, Vázquez’s lawyer told reporters that he and his client were preparing for possible charges because the then-former governor had denied any wrongdoing: “I can tell the people of Porto Rico that I have not committed any crime, that I have not engaged in illegal or improper conduct, as I have always said.
Vázquez was the second woman to serve as governor of Puerto Rico and the first former governor to face federal charges. Former Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá was charged with campaign finance violations while in office and was found not guilty in 2009. He had been Puerto Rico’s first governor to be charged with a crime in recent history.
Vázquez was sworn in as governor in August 2019 after former governor Ricardo Rosselló resigned following massive protests. She served until 2021, after losing the pro-state New Progressive Party primaries to Governor Pedro Pierluisi.
In a statement Thursday, Pierluisi said his administration would work with federal authorities to help fight corruption.
“No one is above the law in Puerto Rico,” he said. “In the face of this news which certainly affects and tears the confidence of our people, I reiterate that in my administration, we will continue to stand united with the federal authorities against anyone who commits wrongdoing, no matter where they come from or who it is. may involve.
Vázquez previously served as the island’s justice secretary and district attorney for more than 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. Vázquez said at the time that she was not interested in running for office and would only complete the nearly two years remaining of Rosselló’s term.
Rosselló had resigned after tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets, angry at corruption, mismanagement of public funds and a lewd conversation in which he and 11 other men, including government officials, made fun of women , homosexuals and hurricane victims. Mary, among others.
Shortly after being sworn in, Vázquez told the AP that his priorities were to fight corruption, secure federal hurricane recovery funds and help pull Puerto Rico out of a deep economic crisis as the government was struggling to emerge from bankruptcy.
During the interview, she told the AP that she had long wanted to be in public office: as a girl, she would stand on her balcony and hold mock trials, always convicting the supposed defendants.
By DÁNICA COTO Associated Press
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