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Ex Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vzquez charged with bribery

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

Vzquez is accused of participating 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.

The consultant, defined as John Blakeman, and the lender president, defined as Frances Daz, have pleaded guilty to taking part in the bribery scheme, based on the U.S. Department of Justice.

In early 2019, the lender owned by Julio Martn Herrera Velutini had been scrutinized by Puerto Ricos Office of the Commissioner of FINANCE INSTITUTIONS due to transactions authorities believed were suspicious and was not reported by the lender.

Authorities said Herrera and Mark Rossini, the former FBI agent who provided consulting services to Herrera, allegedly promised to financially support Vzquezs 2020 campaign for governor in trade for Vzquez dismissing the commissioner and appointing a fresh among Herreras choosing.

Authorities said Vzquez accepted the bribery offer and in February 2020 demanded the commissioners resignation. She then was accused of appointing a former consultant for Herreras bank because the new commissioner in-may 2020. Following the move, officials said Herrera and Rossini paid a lot more than $300,000 to political consultants to aid Vzquezs campaign.

After Vzquez lost the principal to current Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, authorities said Herrera then allegedly sought to bribe Pierluisi to get rid of an audit into his bank with favorable terms. Herrera is accused of using intermediaries from April 2021 to August 2021 to provide a bribe to Pierluisis representative, who was simply actually acting under FBI orders, based on the indictment.

Officials said Herrera then ordered a $25,000 payment to a political action committee hoping of attempting to bribe Pierluisi.

Stephen Muldrow, U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico, said Pierluisi isn’t mixed up in case.

Vzquez, Herrera and Rossini are each charged with conspiracy, federal programs bribery and honest services wire fraud. If they’re found guilty on all counts, they might confront 20 years in prison, officials said.

Meanwhile, Daz and Blakeman could confront five years in prison, officials said.

Muldrow said officials believe Herrera is in britain and Rossini in Spain. It wasnt clear if the U.S. would seek to extradite them.

Juan Rosado-Reyns, a spokesman for Vzquez, told the AP he didn’t have immediate comment.

Attorneys for another suspects charged in the event cannot be immediately reached for comment.

In mid-May, Vzquezs attorney told reporters he and his client were finding your way through possible charges because the former governor at that time denied any wrongdoing: I could tell individuals of Puerto Rico that I’ve not committed any crime, that I’ve not engaged in virtually any illegal or incorrect conduct, when i have always said.

Vzquez was the next woman to serve as Puerto Ricos governor and the initial former governor to handle federal charges. Former Gov. Anbal Acevedo Vil was charged with campaign finance violations during office and was found not liable in 2009. He previously been the initial Puerto Rico governor to be charged with a crime in recent history.

Vzquez was sworn in as governor in August 2019 after former Gov. Ricardo Rossell stepped down following massive protests. She served until 2021, after losing the primaries of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party to Pierluisi.

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

Nobody is above regulations in Puerto Rico, he said. Confronted with this news that certainly affects and lacerates the confidence of our people, I reiterate that in my own administration, we shall continue steadily to have a standard front with federal authorities against anyone who commits an improper act, irrespective of where it originates from or who it could implicate.

Vzquez previously served because the islands justice secretary and an area attorney for a lot more than 30 years.

She became governor after Puerto Ricos Supreme Court ruled that the swearing in of Pierluisi who was simply secretary of state in 2019 as governor was unconstitutional. Vzquez at that time said she had not been thinking about running for office and would only finish the nearly 2 yrs left in Rossells term.

Rossell had resigned after thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the road, angry over corruption, mismanagement of public funds and an obscenity-laced chat where he and 11 other men including public officials made fun of women, gay people and victims of Hurricane Maria, amongst others.

Soon after she was sworn in, Vzquez told the AP that her priorities were to fight corruption, secure federal hurricane recovery funds and help lift Puerto Rico out of a deep overall economy because the government struggled to emerge from bankruptcy.

Through the interview, she told the AP that she had long wished to maintain public service: as a woman, she’d stand on her behalf balcony and hold imaginary trials, always locating the supposed defendants guilty.

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