Guaynabo mayor not collaborating with Justice investigation
SAN JUAN – Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez remained silent Monday regarding the investigation against Guaynabo Mayor Héctor O’Neill, who allegedly settled a sexual harassment suit for a large sum of money.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló requested an investigation from the Justice Department, as well as O’Neill’s resignation, including from all leadership roles in the New Progressive Party, three weeks ago. However, the mayor only resigned from the party municipal committee’s presidency.
“The Justice Department will not issue statements related to the investigation at hand. As we previously announced, there will be no commentary in order to protect victims and witnesses. Investigations are confidential,” a press release reads.
“If legal representatives of the people cited wish to comment, that is a decision that is up to them,” the document adds.
The agency said it has 90 days to conduct a preliminary investigation, as established in Act 2-1988, adding that it will make public if the case is referred to the Special Independent Prosecutor’s Panel (PFEI by its Spanish acronym), the entity that would determine if an accusation will be will presented.
The PFEI is the only government entity authorized to impeach the mayor. The agency already archived a complaint against O’Neill because the victim supposedly requested it. After the settlement was reported, the PFEI said it would begin an investigation.
The Government Ethics Office is also investigating the mayor to see if his financial records reflect payment of the $300,000 settlement.
For his part, O’Neill, who was accompanied by his lawyer, Joaquín Monserrate Matienzo, to the Justice Department, where prosecutor Lynette Velázquez Grau informed the mayor that he was he was suspected of crime and a potential defendant. Upon this, O’Neill followed his attorney’s recommendations and declined to answer questions or present the documents requested.
Shortly after learning of the mayor’s appearance at the Justice Department, NPP Electoral Commissioner Norma Burgos said she expected the mayor’s resignation in order to begin the political transition process and elections for a replacement.
Possible substitutes include former Municipal Assembly President Rep. Antonio “Tony” Soto; Sen. Carmelo Ríos; Rep. José Enrique “Ququito” Meléndez; Puerto Rico Mayors Federation Executive Director Reynaldo Paniagua; and former Rep. Ángel Pérez, who challenged O’Neill in the primaries.
-Ismael Torres contributed to this report.