US House committee reviewing corruption allegations against Puerto Rico power utility
SAN JUAN – House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and two subcommittee chairmen sent a letter Monday to the interim executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Justo González, regarding allegations of corruption and mismanagement during power restoration efforts on the island after Hurricane Maria struck in September.
The authors questioned Prepa’s internal controls and “ability to competently manage power restoration” in Puerto Rico, saying billions in taxpayer dollars are “pledged to help Puerto Rico, but a lack of faith in Puerto Rico’s institutions remains a major barrier to recovery.”
The letter says that in one of the alleged incidents, “PREPA officials were reportedly paid $5,000 and provided free entry tickets, valued at $1,000 apiece, to restore power to San Juan area exotic dance clubs ahead of the scheduled restoration timeline.”
There are also allegations, the lawmakers added, that Prepa “restored power to their own homes and other areas before restoring power to critical locations such as San Juan’s Rio Piedras Medical Center.”
The letter accuses PREPA of mismanaging a warehouse where materials were stored that should have been available to help restore power on the island. The mismanagement exacerbated an equipment shortage and contributed to idled work crews and delayed repairs.
The warehouse in question was not included in computerized inventory lists with PREPA failing to answer questions from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“PREPA’s explanations for Warehouse 5 and its inventory have been contradictory and, frankly, inadequate,” the letter said, referring to the utility’s original claim that the materials were from past infrastructure projects, included outdated surplus supplies and recycled parts.
After the Army Corps of Engineers distributed the materials, PREPA changed its story, the letter alleges, to one indicating that the materials were intended for present, not past, projects.
The letter asks PREPA to preserve all records, documents, data and communications regarding all open PREPA investigations into“allegations of corruption, favoritism, or abuse of authority by PREPA employees, officials, or contractors.”
It also seeks information surrounding the warehouse in question. All materials are to be submitted to the committee by 5 p.m on March 26.
The letter was also signed by Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) and Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Chairman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA).
–Reuters contributed to this report.