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Ex-Governor of Puerto Rico Wanda Vasquez is busted by FBI for bribery scheme

The former governor of Puerto Rico was arrested Thursday for allegedly removing a senior government official in exchange for more than $300,000 in funds for her 2020 governor campaign.

Wanda Vasquez, 62, allegedly took the bribe in exchange for ousting the head of the Puerto Rico Commissioner of Financial Institutions’ office, which was investigating a San Juan bank owned by Julio Martín Herrera Velutini.

Each is charged with conspiracy, bribery of federal programs and fraud with honest services.

According to the Justice Department, she replaced the director with someone specially selected by Velutini and his adviser, FBI agent Mark Rossini.

Vasquez, Puerto Rico’s second female governor, was running for reelection at the time after taking office in 2019 when her predecessor, Governor Ricardo Rossello, was forced to leave amid protests over his own corruption.

She ‘demands’ the official’s resignation in February 2020 and replaced them in May 2020.

Despite the $300,000 in bribes transferred to her accounts, according to the DOJ, Vasquez lost the election.

“Public corruption erodes people’s trust in our institutions and fuels civil unrest,” said Joseph Gonzalez, a special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Juan Field Office. “No one is above the law and the victim of this crime, the people, deserve better.”

While attacked on Thursday by reporters outside the Federal Court in San Juan, she insisted she was “innocent” and had committed “no crime.”

‘I am innocent. I have committed no crime,’ she said, ‘I assure you they have committed a great injustice against me.’

Wanda Vasquez, 62, allegedly took the bribe in exchange for ousting the head of the Puerto Rico Commissioner of Financial Institutions' office, which was investigating a San Juan bank owned by Julio Martín Herrera Velutini

Wanda Vasquez, 62, allegedly took the bribe in exchange for ousting the head of the Puerto Rico Commissioner of Financial Institutions’ office, which was investigating a San Juan bank owned by Julio Martín Herrera Velutini

Vasquez was attacked by reporters after leaving federal court in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  She insisted she was innocent

Vasquez was attacked by reporters after leaving federal court in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She insisted she was innocent

Vasquez previously denied involvement in criminal activity when reports circulated last spring that charges might be brought against her.

“I can tell the people of Puerto Rico that I have committed no crime, that I have not engaged in any unlawful or improper conduct, as I have always said,” she told the Associated Press in May.

The ex-governor left office in 2021. She was governor of the area when it was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2020 and was desperately short of resources due to government mismanagement.

“There have been actions by government officials that have been completely unacceptable,” she said at the time.

She also once told the Associated Press that fighting corruption was one of her administration’s priorities.

Vasquez was charged with conspiracy, bribery of federal programs and fraud with honest services

Vasquez was charged with conspiracy, bribery of federal programs and fraud with honest services

Vasquez’s successor, Governor Pedro Pierluisi, condemned the news of her charges, saying, “No one is above the law in Puerto Rico.”

“Faced with this news that certainly erodes and damages the trust of our people, I repeat that in my administration we will have a common front with the federal authorities against anyone who commits an improper act, no matter where it comes from or who may imply it.” ‘ he said in a statement.

Vasquez, Rosini and Herrera all face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the crime.

“She is unequivocally, absolutely and totally innocent of all charges against her,” said her lawyer, Ignacio Fernandez Lahongrais, “She is looking forward to her day in court.”

Two others implicated in the crime, CEO and president of San Juan bank Frances Diaz, and Vasquez’s political adviser, John Blakeman, have both already pleaded guilty to charges of pleading guilty to conspiracy to arrange bribes, the DOJ said. . They risk up to five years in prison.

The arrest has embarrassed and angered many in Puerto Rico who believe the island's already shaky image has been further tarnished.

The arrest has embarrassed and angered many in Puerto Rico who believe the island’s already shaky image has been further tarnished.

Thursday's arrest also dealt a blow to Vázquez's pro-statehood New Progressive Party, which is pushing for a referendum next year in a bid to become the 51st U.S. state.

Thursday’s arrest also dealt a blow to Vázquez’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party, which is pushing for a referendum next year in a bid to become the 51st U.S. state.

The arrest embarrassed and enraged many in Puerto Rico who believe the island’s already shaky image has been further tarnished.

Thursday’s arrest also dealt a blow to Vázquez’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party, which is pushing for a referendum next year in a bid to become the 51st US state.

Former governor 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 was the first governor of Puerto Rico to be charged with a felony in recent history.

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