Indicted Puerto Rican senator: Feds are going to make a fool of themselves
SAN JUAN – The former mayor of Yauco, Sen. Abel Nazario Quiñones, rejected Wednesday federal fraud charges against him related to agreements he reached with the U.S. Labor Department.
“They’re going to have to prove it and they’ll be ridiculed before the people of Puerto Rico,” the senator said at a press conference.
Nazario said the issue is about citizens who went to his municipality to request aid.
“The people who would go to the municipality–not regular employees–and said: I have to pay for electricity; I have to pay for water. We established as a [policy] that nothing would be given to for free. They were paid for four hours and asked for two volunteer hours. Two years later, the federal government determined that voluntary hours couldn’t be requested, even for those cases [aid to pay for water or power]. There was an audit and we had to pay $580,000. I didn’t establish who was to be paid, it was established by the federal Labor Department. The agreement was fully complied with,” he said.
Nazario reportedly benefited from the money withheld, but the District Attorney’s office declined to provide details, arguing it was part of their evidence, according to the Associated Press.
Despite Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s request he resign as senator, Nazario insisted on staying in his seat, but will not be part of the caucus of the Senate majority nor will he participate in the political activities of the New Progressive Party (NPP).
“The advice I could give or that I could give the governor, in good faith, is one thing. He has said he will not resign and will defend himself. He will have room to reflect on all of this,” said Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz about Nazario’s determination to remain a senator.
It was said that the attorneys for the senator-at-large are Edgar Vega and María Domínguez.
U.S. District Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez Vélez said Nazario’s arrest was for allegedly falsifying documents and wire fraud.
“This is a fraud to the employees of the municipality, it is not fraud to the Department of Labor. It is a case that involves lying to the Department of Labor, having accepted that he owed money for hours worked to 177 employees. And an agreement was reached with the Department of Labor to pay those employees, because he forced them to work for free,” federal prosecutor José Capó Iriarte said.
The prosecutor said the former mayor lied in 30 documents he sent to the U.S. Labor Department allegedly forcing employees to sign that they received the money owed, but at the same time they were informed that the payment constitutes an advance for the salary they will receive for the next months.
“He’s telling the employees he is advancing the next salaries for the next months of their employment in the municipality,” Capó reiterated.
“Abel Nazario has never stolen anything. I have never misappropriated any public or private funds. Abel Nazario has never threatened the rights of an employee. I helped hundreds of Yaucanos and thousands of Puerto Ricans get a decent job,” Nazario said.
Comptroller Yesmín Valdivieso, who referred the matter to the federal authorities after conducting two municipal audits, said the then-mayor accepted the findings of both audits.
The FBI’s special agent in charge of the San Juan Division, Douglas A. Leff, had a message for mayors or officials: “If you know you are on our list, join our efforts to eliminate this culture of corruption. If you decide not to take our advice, we suggest you have your toothbrush ready when we go after you,” he said.