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  • FBI arrests Puerto Rico lawmaker, family in corruption probe

    FBI arrests Puerto Rico lawmaker, family in corruption probe

    FBI agents on Monday arrested Puerto Rico Rep. María Milagros Charbonier after the legislator who once presided over the island’s House Ethics Committee was charged in a public corruption case that officials say also involved her son, husband and an assistant.

    H/T: AP NEWS

    U.S. Attorney Stephen Muldrow said it was a simple scheme in which Charbonier allegedly received some $100,000 in bribes and kickbacks after increasing the pay of her assistant, Frances Acevedo, from $800 every two weeks to nearly $3,000, and then received between $1,000 to $1,500 in return for every paycheck.

    More details were made available via a DOJ statement on the arrests.

    According to the allegations in the indictment, from early 2017 until July 2020, Charbonier, Montes, Montes-Charbonier, and Acevedo executed a scheme to defraud the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico by engaging in a theft, bribery, and kickback scheme.  In early 2017, Charbonier inflated her assistant Acevedo’s salary from $800 on a bi-weekly, after-tax basis to $2,100; this amount increased to nearly $2,900 by September 2019.  Out of every inflated paycheck, it was agreed that Acevedo would keep a portion, and kick back between $1,000 and $1,500 to Charbonier, Montes, and Montes-Charbonier.

    “Puerto Rico legislator María Milagros Charbonier-Laureano, her family, and her associates allegedly carried out a brazen scheme to defraud the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico through bribery, kickbacks, theft, and fraud,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “When elected officials betray the people's trust in order to enrich themselves at the public’s expense, the Justice Department will hold them accountable.”

    “I encourage those who have information of public officials involved in criminal acts to come forward.  We will continue investigating and prosecuting elected officials whose criminal conduct enriches themselves at the expense of the government and their constituents,” said U.S. Attorney Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico.  “I commend our partners from the FBI for their tremendous efforts investigating this matter, particularly during the pandemic.  I would also like to recognize the Public Integrity Section attorneys who supported this investigation and traveled to Puerto Rico in order to work with our District to present this case to the Grand Jury.”

    “Most of the work we do takes place behind the scenes.  Quality investigative work requires time and patience,” said Special Agent in Charge Rafael Riviere Vázquez of the FBI’s San Juan Field Office.  “It is my hope that the people of Puerto Rico never doubt that we are doing the work that we have been entrusted to do.  Public Corruption is FBI San Juan's priority and it will continue to be a priority. Puerto Rico belongs to each and every one of us, and together we can take it back.”

    The indictment further alleges that the defendants used a variety of means to transfer the kickbacks from Acevedo to Charbonier and her family.  Allegedly, Acevedo would sometimes transfer cash by hand to Montes, Montes-Charbonier, and other individuals connected to Charbonier; Acevedo would sometimes transfer kickbacks in approximately $500 increments to Montes or to Montes-Charbonier using ATH Móvil, a mobile phone application that allows individuals who bank at certain financial institutions to send money to each other through an interface on their cell phones; and, at times, Acevedo left cash kickbacks in a pre-determined location, such as Charbonier’s purse or inside of a vehicle, for Charbonier to later collect.

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