Friday, December 6, 2019

House lawmaker sends after-hearing responses to U.S. Justice Dept.

By on July 30, 2019

PDP Rep. Jesús Manuel Ortiz (CB file photo)

Aims to apprise federal authorities of potential role gov’s adviser and a contractor played in Puerto Rico gov’t health plan contracts

SAN JUAN — Minority Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Jesús Manuel Ortiz has referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI the responses requested of insurer Triple-S after a House Health Committee hearing.

The insurer states that Alberto Velázquez participated as a representative of the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym) in meetings with Triple-S related to the government’s ‘Plan Vital’ health plan as well as the contracting process in which he also represented ASES.

The report adds that although Triple-S “consulted various topics with Elías Sánchez as part of the contracting of law firm Wolf Popper LLP, effective June 1, 2017, through September 26, 2018, Sánchez did not participate in meetings between Triple-S and ASES.”

Velázquez was a subcontractor at accounting and auditing firm BDO Puerto Rico. Sánchez is an attorney and lobbyist who served as Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s former campaign manager and representative to the island’s Financial Oversight and Management Board.

On July 10, Velázquez was arrested for allegedly benefiting from contracts BDO had with the Education Department and ASES.

“The conspiracy and scheme to defraud involved federal funds paid by [the Puerto Rico Education Department] to BDO for several contracts totaling over $13 million from January 2017 until April 2019. Despite express prohibitions in said contracts, BDO subcontracted other companies to perform the services, and paid Velázquez through his company, Azur, a 10% commission for the contracts awarded through Velázquez-Piñol’s influence with government officials,” reads the indictment.

“Wolf Popper, PSC (not Wolf Popper LLP) was contracted by Triple-S Management to provide legal advice in some specific issues,” a spokesman for the firm told El Nuevo Dia on Tuesday, adding that, as “an independent contractor (Sánchez), was an attorney of record in some litigations. He doesn’t manage government issues for our clients and he doesn’t lobby for Wolf Popper, PSC or its clients.”

In its report for the House Health Committee, Triple-S further said it has “lobbyists, advisers and legal counselors who assist with government and public policy issues as part of the normal course of our businesses.”

The report was required of the insurer in response to unanswered questions asked by Health Committee lawmakers, including Ortiz, during a public hearing July 3, in which Triple-S’s representative said she didn’t know whether Velázquez or Sánchez participated in any meeting or had contracts with the insurer.

Committee Chairman Juan Oscar Morales Rodríguez asked for a report answering the lawmakers’ questions during the hearings.

In its report, Triple-S said it “complied with all the material requirements” of Plan Vital’s request for proposals process.

“I referred the documentation received as part of the information that was given to the [Health] Committee, to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Ortiz told Caribbean Business.

Ortiz explained that on July 3, a week before Velázquez was indicted and arrested for conspiracy and scheme to defraud involving federal funds paid by the Puerto Rico Education Department to BDO and to ASES, a public hearing was held to discuss House Bill 1357, which aims to look into the “payment relationship of the government health plan with health providers.” 

 “At that public hearing each insurance company, had a representative,” Ortiz said. “And I asked three questions: Whether they had lobbyists and if Elías Sánchez was or is a lobbyist. If Velázquez had participated in any meeting of Plan Vital, and if all of them had complied with the requirements established in the bidding [process] for the Plan Vital, because there was already information spreading that one of the companies had not complied…”

He said all of the companies’ representatives answered the questions except for Triple-S, whose representative said she didn’t know and didn’t have the information available. At that point, Ortiz said he asked Morales Rodríguez to include those three questions in the report to be submitted as several other questions were not answered.

The other insurers at the public hearings included MMM, Molina Health Care, Menonita and First Medical.

The PDP lawmaker explained that all of the companies except Triple-S said Velázquez participated in the meetings.

On Monday, Triple-S answered the Health Committee questions; however, the document is dated July 25.

“In the document, they basically confirm they had a contractual relationship with the law firm where Elías Sánchez is at; that he was consulted on several matters but that he was not at the meetings,” Ortiz said. “Secondly, they confirm that Velázquez was at meetings and representing ASES, which is the most important part in my opinion.”

On Tuesday, Ortiz also asked ASES to submit all of its governing board minutes in which Plan Vital was discussed as well as “information about the components of the committees that evaluated Plan Vital proposals.”

“In the government, when there is a bid, those that request to participate make a proposal and each agency has a committee that evaluates those proposals, verifies documents, verifies if they qualify or don’t qualify to form part of the bidding process,” Ortiz said. “I am requesting who forms part of that committee or committees, if there is more than one. We have to see who participated in those committees.”

On July 12, Rosselló returned to the island following the arrests of Velázquez, the former secretary of Education, the executive director of ASES and others. Caribbean Business asked Rosselló who had authorized Velázquez to tell the Education Department and ASES that he was representing his office, La Fortaleza, and whether those supposed orders came from his then-campaign manager, Elías Sánchez, the governor did not answer clearly.

“He [Velázquez Piñol] is a consultant. He has no power to make decisions. The way I know Alberto is from the [former Gov. Luis] Fortuño administration and later he was a contributor to the Plan for Puerto Rico [Rosselló’s campaign platform]. He was a consultant,” the governor said without specifying whether someone in La Fortaleza gave him instructions to negotiate Education and ASES contracts.

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