The former governor of Puerto Rico was arrested on Thursday for allegedly removing a high-ranking government official in return for over $300,000 in funds for her 2020 gubernatorial campaign.
Wanda Vasquez, 62, allegedly accepted the bribe in exchange for ousting the head of Puerto Rico’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions, who was investigating a San Juan bank owned by Julio Martín Herrera Velutini.
Each are charged with conspiracy, federal programs bribery and honest services fraud.
She replaced the director with somebody hand-picked by Velutini and his consultant, FBI Special Agent Mark Rossini, according to the Department of Justice.
Vasquez, the second female governor of Puerto Rico, was running for reelection at the time after she’d assumed the office in 2019 when her predecessor, Gov. Ricardo Rossello, was was forced out amidst protests over his own corruption.
She ‘demanded’ the official’s resignation in February of 2020, and replaced them in May of 2020.
Despite the $300,000 bribery boost which the DOJ says was transferred to her accounts, Vasquez went on to lose the election.
‘Public corruption erodes the people’s trust in our institutions and fuels civil unrest,’ said the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Juan Field Office, Joseph Gonzalez, ‘No one is above the law and the victim of this crime, the People, deserve better.’
While being assailed by reporters outside the Federal Court in San Juan on Thursday, she insisted she was ‘innocent’ and had not committed ‘any crime.’
‘I am innocent. I have not committed any crime,’ she said, ‘I assure you that they have committed a great injustice against me.’
Wanda Vasquez, 62, allegedly accepted the bribe in exchange for ousting the head of Puerto Rico’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions, who was investigating a San Juan bank owned by Julio Martín Herrera Velutini
Vasquez was assailed by reporters after leaving the Federal Court, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She insisted she was innocent
Vasquez previously denied being involved in any criminal activity when reports that charges might be headed her way began to circulate last spring.
‘I can tell the people of Puerto Rico that I have not committed any crime, that I have not engaged in any illegal or incorrect conduct, as I have always said,’ she told the Associated Press in May.
The ex-governor left the office in 2021. She was Governor of the territory when it was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2020 and left desperately short of resources due to government mismangement.
‘There have been actions by government officials that have been completely unacceptable,’ she said at the time.
She also once told the Associated Press fighting corruption was one of her administrations priorities.
Vasquez was charged with conspiracy, federal programs bribery and honest services fraud
Vasquez’s successor, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, condemned the news of her charges, saying ‘no one is above the law in Puerto Rico.’
‘Faced with this news that certainly affects and lacerates the confidence of our people, I reiterate that in my administration, we will continue to have a common front with federal authorities against anyone who commits an improper act, no matter where it comes from or who it may implicate,’ he said in a statement.
Vasquez, Rosini, and Herrera all face up to 20 years in prison if convicted for the crime.
‘She is unequivocally, absolutely and totally innocent of all the charges against her,’ said her attorney, Ignacio Fernandez Lahongrais, ‘She looks forward to her day in court.’
Two others involved in the crime, CEO and president of the San Juan bank Frances Diaz, and Vasquez’s political consultant, John Blakeman, have both already pleaded guilty to charges of pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to arrange bribes, according to the DOJ. They face up to five years in prison.
The arrest embarrassed and angered many in Puerto Rico who believe the island’s already shaky image has been further tarnished
Thursday’s arrest also was a blow to Vázquez’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party, which is pushing to hold a referendum next year in a bid to become the 51st U.S. state
The arrest embarrassed and angered many in Puerto Rico who believe the island’s already shaky image has been further tarnished.
Thursday’s arrest also was a blow to Vázquez’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party, which is pushing to hold a referendum next year in a bid to become the 51st U.S. state.
Former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá of the opposing Popular Democratic Party was charged with campaign finance violations while in office and was found not guilty in 2009. He had been the first Puerto Rico governor to be charged with a crime in recent history.