Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Arrest made in Education Dept., Health Insurance Administration investigation

By on August 12, 2020

Julia Keleher (CB file)

Former CPA Society head denies involvement in corruption case against former department heads

SAN JUAN — After a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico returned a superseding indictment adding an unnamed seventh defendant in the public corruption case against the former head of the island’s Department of Education, Julia Keleher, and the former chief of the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym), Ángela Ávila, alongside four other co-defendants, the FBI reportedly made another arrest Wednesday.

Aníbal Jover, a former CPA Society president, reportedly denies involvement in the scandal.

FBI spokeswoman Limary Cruz told the Associated Press that there’s a gag order in the case and that she could not provide further details, the wire service reported.

“The United States respectfully requests that the Court file a redacted version of the returned superseding indictment to omit all references to Defendant 7’s identity until Defendant 7 is arrested,” reads the motion filed by federal prosecutor Alexander Alum and addressed to Judge Pedro Delgado.

The superseding indictment replaces the original one, filed in 2019, which accuses Keleher of participating in two corruption schemes in which she allegedly steered $13 million in federal funding to award contracts to insider companies, mainly accounting firm BDO Puerto Rico, and receiving kickbacks in exchange. Meanwhile, Ávila has been accused of participating in a similar scheme to the tune of $2.5 million.

The other co-defendants in the case include BDO contractor Alberto Velázquez Piñol, BDO managing partner Fernando Scherrer, Glenda Ponce, Keleher’s former special assistant at the Department of Education, and her sister Mayra Ponce, owner of Colón & Ponce, another firm that allegedly benefitted from the illegal scheme. Velázquez Piñol has been singled out as a common thread in the schemes.

The arrest of Keleher, at the time one of the most important members in the cabinet of then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, was one of the factors that later led to Rosselló’s resignation in the summer of 2019. Last January, Keleher was once again indicted for allegedly giving public-school land to a developer in exchange for living in an upscale apartment complex “for six months on a $1 lease even though the agreement stipulated a $1,500 monthly rent,” the AP reports, adding that she “then bought the apartment and received a $12,000 bonus in connection with the purchase when such bonuses rarely exceed $5,000, officials said.”

Although Keleher has maintained her innocence, her trial has been scheduled for 2021 and, if found guilty, could face up to 20 years in prison.

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