A former Puerto Rico governor was arrested Thursday on bribery charges related to her 2020 campaign, Justice Department officials said.
According to the indictment, then-Governor of Puerto Rico Wanda Vázquez Garced allegedly participated in a bribery scheme to finance her failed 2020 reelection campaign.
A political consultant for the former governor, John Blakeman, and international bank president Frances Díaz have pleaded guilty to participating in the bribery scheme, according to the Justice Department.
The principal players in the bribery scheme allegedly conspired to replace a territorial regulator who was auditing an international bank with someone picked by the owner of the bank being investigated.
Julio Martín Herrera Velutini, 50, a dual Venezuelan-Italian citizen residing in London, owned an international bank operating in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Frances Díaz, was the CEO and president of the Velutini’s bank.
Mark Rossini of Madrid, Spain, was a former FBI agent who provided consulting services to Velutini, according to the Justice Department.
John Blakeman was a political consultant who worked on the former governor’s 2020 campaign.
In 2019, Velutini’s bank was being examined by Puerto Rico’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions (OCIF), an agency that oversees Puerto Rican financial institutions. The Justice Department said Velutini and Rossini allegedly had intermediaries promise money for Garced’s 2020 reelection campaign if she replaced the OCIF commissioner with an individual chosen by Velutini.
The feds allege Garced accepted the bribe and in February 2020 demanded the resignation of the OCIF commissioner. She reportedly appointed Velutini’s pick — a former consultant for the bank owned by Velutini — as the replacement commissioner a few months later.
Justice Department attorneys allege Velutini and Rossini paid more than $300,000 to political consultants in support of Garced’s campaign.
After Garced’s August 2020 primary loss, Velutini allegedly tried to bribe her successor, offering funding in support of the replacement’s campaign in exchange for ending OCIF’s audit of Velutini’s bank on terms favorable to him.
According to the indictment, between April 2021 and August 2021, Velutini used go-betweens to convey his bribe offer of a bribe to an individual who claimed to be a representative of Garced’s replacement.
As it turns out, he was actually working with the FBI.
The bank owner allegedly directed $25,000 to a political action committee for the politician who beat Garced in the primary election. Velutini’s alleged bribe of the second politician was reportedly offered in return for the audit of his bank ending in a manner requested by him.
The former governor, the bank owner and Rossini are each charged with conspiracy, federal programs bribery and honest services wire fraud. Garced is scheduled to appear in a Puerto Rico federal court Thursday.
If convicted on all counts, they each face a maximum total penalty of 20 years in prison.
“The alleged bribery scheme rose to the highest levels of the Puerto Rican government, threatening public trust in our electoral processes and institutions of governance,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr.
“No one is above the rule of law.”
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