Governor asks for arrested Sen. Nazario’s resignation
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rican Sen. Abel Nazario Quiñones was arrested and charged Wednesday in a 39-count indictment alleging the making or use of false documents and wire fraud, U.S. District Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez Vélez announced.
The Puerto Rico Comptroller’s Office, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the FBI are in charge of the investigation.
The district attorney said the allegation stems from an audit by Comptroller Yesmín Valdivieso while he was mayor of Yauco that found Nazario forced some employees to work two hours voluntarily. The case was referred to the U.S. Labor Department, which determined the order was a violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
In February 2015, the former mayor signed a compliance agreement with the federal Labor Department in which he undertook to pay $588,961 to 177 employees for unpaid work hours from Aug. 1, 2012 to July 31, 2014. The municipality was given until February 2018 to make the payments.
A follow-up audit in August 2016 found that although some of the money owed had been paid to the employees, the municipality withheld workers’ salary without the knowledge or consent of the Labor Department.
The DOL OIG identified 30 contract municipal employees who, by the end of his mayoral term in 2016, Nazario had certified were paid their back wages pursuant to the agreement. The DOL OIG also determined that those 30 contract municipal employees, after receiving the wages to which they were entitled under the agreement, had their regular pay withheld for certain periods of time at the direction of Nazario while he provided various explanations to the employees as to why they were receiving these lump sum checks.
Nazario is accused of directing the payroll department to withhold future earnings of these employees for varying lengths of time, despite their continued work for the municipality. It is also alleged that defendant committed wire fraud as some of the forms used to certify the payments to the DOL WHD were sent via email.
“The defendant’s conduct undermines the confidence employees place in those who are supposed to protect and represent them,” Rodríguez Vélez said at a press conference. “Yauco’s former mayor, skilled at convincing individuals to place their trust in him, engaged in a scheme to defraud his own employees.”
“An important mission of the Office of Inspector General is to investigate allegations that relate to U.S. Department of Labor programs designed to protect the wages of the American workforce,” stated Michael C. Mikulka, special agent-in-charge, New York Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.
If found guilty, he could face a 20-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $1 million.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares requested Nazario’s resignation and relieved him of his positions in the New Progressive Party (NPP) after he was arrested early Wednesday.
“As governor of Puerto Rico, we have to be consistent with our public policy. For this reason, we are requesting his resignation as senator. The senator must now concentrate…on facing the federal accusations,” Rosselló said in a statement.
“We are dismayed by the situation that Senator Abel Nazario faces. However, as president of the New Progressive Party, I am removing the senator from the positions he occupies in the NPP as vice president and assistant secretary,” Rosselló added as the party’s president.
During a press conference, Wednesday afternoon Nazario said alongside Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz that he will not resign, but will stay out of the caucus.”I do’t have to be ashamed,” told the media.
Rivera Schatz had said on social media earlier that he was saddened by “news of the arrest of fellow Senator Abel Nazario by the FBI,” adding, “It is regrettable and outrageous that this happened. The trust of the people should not be betrayed.”
In an interview on the aforementioned station, Rivera Schatz said Nazario was removed as chairman of the Senate Education and University Reform Committee and others in which he was a member.
“Senator Abel Nazario has always been a humble servant and worker for the people of Puerto Rico in each of the positions he has held. Today, the federal accusations have taken us by surprise and although he has the right of presumption of innocence, our island cannot afford the incorrect use of federal funds in any form,” said Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón, who is also the president of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico.
“Amid the arrest by the public order agencies of the senator, by determination of a federal grand jury, we are forced to remove Senator Nazario from his position as First Vice President of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico and any other position he held within the political structure. The now Second Vice President, Jorge San Miguel, will occupy the first vice presidency as the Party reorganizes its structure,” the party’s local president added in her statement.
Nazario has been vice president of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico since November 2015; however, in April 2017, he publicly announced his intention to resign, but never notified the party in writing.