Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Former Puerto Rico Sports & Recreation secretary pleads guilty to fraud

By on October 1, 2019

Ramón Orta (Juan J. Rodríguez/CB)

Indicted for receiving kickbacks, fraud and money laundering

SAN JUAN — Despite reiterating that he would go to trial, on Tuesday afternoon, in a surprising twist, the former secretary of Puerto Rico’s Department of Sports and Recreation, Ramón Orta Rodríguez, notified federal Judge Pedro A. Delgado that he was pleading guilty to public corruption charges.

According to the case record, Orta notified Judge Delgado via his lawyer, Francisco Rebollo Casalduc, about his change of mind and on Tuesday the judge scheduled the admission hearing for Wednesday at 2 p.m.

The criminal trial was scheduled for Oct. 21.

According to the 62-page indictment, Orta allegedly received $27,000 in cash, construction work performed in his home and the payment of two trips, to Toronto and Mexico, in exchange for benefiting the co-conspirators to fraudulently obtain contracts with the department.

The indictment returned June 20, 2017, by a federal grand jury includes 50 counts—including conspiracy, electronic fraud, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering—against Orta Rodríguez; his special assistant in the department, Edgardo Vázquez Morales; the founder and president of Rosso Group, Oscar Rodríguez Torres; the contractor and former member of the finance team of David Bernier and CPA, Miguel Sosa Suárez; the president of Administrative, Environmental and Sport Consultant Corp., Irvin Riquel Torres Rodríguez, and his wife, Cecilia Amador López; and the creator and owner of Sport Consultants, Juan Carlos Ortiz Nieves.

According to the federal indictment, the defendants used Rosso Group Inc. since its creation, in February 2013, to 2016 to finance projects awarded by the Sports secretary under the administration of Gov. Alejandro García Padilla. The company received $8.7 million from the department.

Likewise, the accused used, according to the indictment, the nonprofit Global Sport Initiative that promoted boxing events and was managed by Sosa Suárez to receive money as part of the scheme.

The former secretary allegedly outsourced Rosso Group to carry out federally funded projects in violation of the agreement he had with the department.

The four projects for which Orta outsourced Rosso Group were “Proyecto Verano Saludable” (“Project Healthy Summer”) in 2013, “Aprendo Saludable” (“Learn Healthy”) in 2015, “Matemáticas en Contexto” (“Mathematics in Context”); and “Voces de la Juventud” (“Voices of Youth”) in 2015.

The former secretary ordered Person A, who is a TV producer, to contact Sosa Suárez regarding the details of the department’s TV productions.

“Public corruption continues to erode the trust between government officials and our citizens. Defendant Ramón Orta, along with his coconspirators, exploited his government position to rob Puerto Rican taxpayers of more than $10 million,” U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez said back in 2017.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Erbe.