The FBI arrested six of Puerto Rico’s former government officials for using the island’s federal funding on politically connected contractors.
What We Know:
- Education Secretary Julia Keleher, former Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head Ángela Ávila-Marrero, businessmen Fernando Scherrer-Caillet and Alberto Velázquez-Piñol, and education contractors Glenda Ponce-Mendoza and Mayra Ponce-Mendoza have been charged with 32 counts of money laundering, fraud and other related charges. The six defendants could face up to 5 years in prison for conspiracy and up to 20 years for each money laundering and electronic fraud.
- It was reported that between 2017 and 2019, $13 million out of the $15.5 million in federal funding was spent by the Department of Education during Keleher’s time as secretary and $2.5 million was spent by the insurance administration when Ávila was the director.
- There’s no evidence that Keleher or Ávila-Marrero had benefited from the scheme, according to NBC News. However, Velázquez-Piñol had allegedly used their contacts in the education and health insurance agencies to win federal contracts and illegally used federal money to pay for lobbying.
- Puerto Rico has been struggling financially and has faced major budget cuts. This led the government to hire private companies to carry out health care and educational services.
- This scheme could hurt Puerto Rico’s chance of getting the $12 billion they asked for in order to support the island’s Medicaid. President Trump delayed the disaster aid bill after Hurricane Maria because he thought island officials wouldn’t manage the funds properly.
Puerto Rico has had a series of corruption cases with Wednesday’s being the most recent. In June, the FBI announced it was “investigating patterns of conduct concerning government corruption and fraud” in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), chairman of the Natural Resources Committee that oversees Puerto Rico, called for Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rosselló, to resign following the scandal.