Mayor of Gurabo Arrested for Public Corruption
SAN JUAN – Víctor M. Ortiz Díaz, aka “Manolito,” mayor of the municipality of Gurabo, was arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents on charges of extortion and soliciting a bribe, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, announced Wednesday.
For these charges, the mayor, whose resignation was requested by Governor-elect Ricardo Rosselló, could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, Rodríguez said.
The district attorney explained that in or about October 2012, the Municipality of Gurabo owed Company A payments for eight outstanding invoices for work performed in the municipality. Person A, co-owner of Company A, met with mayor Ortíz-Díaz to discuss the outstanding debt. The mayor solicited $125,000 from Person A to invest in a telecommunication antennas project.
According to the indictment, Because Company A didn’t have the money to pay the $125,000, the mayor told Person A that he would have the municipality make a payment to the company. With this money, Company A could be able to cover the “loan” to Ortiz Díaz, as well as pay other debts it owed its suppliers.
On Oct. 19, 2012, Person A issued three post-dated Company A checks payable to three different individuals, who were employees of Miguel Merced. Merced was orchestrating the telecommunications investment scheme in which Ortiz Díaz invested three checks totaling $125,000. On that same date, the Municipality of Gurabo issued two checks totaling $196,643.26 payable to Company A for contracting work performed.
Unbeknownst to him, Ortiz Díaz used the money he extorted from Person A in what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme run by Merced, who is now serving a six-year prison sentence.
“Defendant Ortiz-Díaz extorted Person A, to invest in a Ponzi scheme, which resulted in losses to many victims,” Rodríguez said. “Although he presented himself as a victim in federal court, it was the citizens of Gurabo who were the victims of his corrupt acts, as it was their money he squandered.”
“It is always a sad day when someone who enjoys the trust of the people abuses that trust,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas Leff. “It should be clear by now that those officials who have served the public dishonestly will eventually have justice delivered to their doorstep. The FBI will continue to work with its partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ensure that the citizens of Puerto Rico receive the fair and honest government to which they are entitled.”
“Yes, there are many more corruption cases coming,” Rodríguez said, stressing that what raised flags in the case was not that he was a mayor but a public official violating the law.
On the reasons for arresting the mayor a month after the elections, the federal official insisted that cases are revealed when ready. However, she explained that they were “careful” to not to act in a way that would affect the thinking of voters before an electoral event.
Rodríguez said the mayor didn’t resist arrest, adding that Ortiz Díaz had pretended to be a victim in court, but also acknowledged he had invested money in Merced’s company not knowing it was a scheme.
“The fruit of hard work can be seen,” said Zulma Rosario, director of the Government Ethics Office, which has been collaborating with federal agencies on corruption cases.
The mayor’s bail and conditions have yet to be divulged.
The case was investigated by the FBI and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Olga B. Castellón-Miranda.