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Federal Prosecutors Can Intervene with those Traveling to Island to Vote

By on November 4, 2016

SAN JUAN — Amid the several public reports of mayors who have allegedly paid airline tickets to Puerto Rican voters residing stateside so they can travel to the island and participate in the Nov. 8 elections, U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez said Friday that her office has jurisdiction to intervene in these cases.

“Yes, we would have jurisdiction. That would be fraud,” Rodríguez said when asked about the issue that has been colloquially called “La Palma Airlines,” in reference to New Progressive Party (NPP) supporters who are believed to mostly comprise those who would allegedly be  traveling to the island next week to participate in the elections.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

The chief federal prosecutor in Puerto Rico said it is also a crime to pay someone to come to the island and vote, “depending on the evidence that could be developed.”

In fact, she said an investigation is underway over a formal complaint received through a letter, but declined to comment further on the matter. Rodríguez explained that, after receiving a complaint, the circumstances are evaluated and then decided whether to assign a prosecutor, along with a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent, to investigate further.

“A series of documents are received – letters, phone calls – and that is evaluated. As in the primaries, nothing really showed up. At this stage, emotions are running high, and obviously many things arise that later turn out to be nothing. But we will seriously evaluate everything and verify if there is enough evidence and whether we have to file charges over the matter,” she explained.

The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) recently said that NPP officials have reportedly agreed to pay airline tickets to Puerto Ricans living abroad to participate in the Nov. 8 elections, something that would be illegal because these people no longer reside in Puerto Rico.

The State Election Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials) told Caribbean Business it can’t do anything about this situation because it has “no controls” over the matter, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston determined that voters who didn’t participate in the past two elections have to be kept active on electoral lists.

As a result, the number of registered voters in Puerto Rico is larger than those who live on the island and are older than 18.

No corruption accusations before elections

Meanwhile, Rodríguez said no charges related to public corruption cases will be filed before the Nov. 8 election.

“We don’t expect to do anything before Tuesday that affects the elections. The answer is no. You can go on vacation,” said the federal prosecutor.

Four co-defendants in a federal corruption case related to the PDP and convicted fundraiser Anaudi Hernández Pérez, currently await sentencing after a jury found them guilty in numerous charges.

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