Puerto Rico Maritime Transportation director discharged for overtime pay scheme
SAN JUAN – The executive director of the Puerto Rico Maritime Transportation Authority (ATM by its Spanish initials), Melvin Cruz, was relieved of his position and returned to his career post after an irregular overtime payment scheme was revealed in said public corporation,La Fortaleza Chief of Staff William Villafañe announced Thursday.
The scheme benefited about 13 public employees, who were paid about $3.6 million for hours they allegedly did not work. However, it is estimated that the scheme may involve up to 22 ATM employees, Villafañe said at a press conference in which he was accompanied by Carlos Contreras, the secretary of the Transportation and Public Works Department (DTOP by its Spanish initials), the umbrella agency that includes the ATM.
The head of the Integrated Transportation Authority (ATI by its Spanish initials), Luis Abreu, will replace Cruz. Although Cruz did not benefit from the scheme, “his management allowed it to occur,” and when the DTOP questioned him, he didn’t collaborate.
Villafañe said that one of the management employees involved made $588,600 in extra hours in a 40-month period, which represents an additional $14,716 monthly over the official’s $5,000 salary.
“Some reached absurdity by never eating lunch. Every day, they would take that hour to three times what corresponds to them…. As it turns out, they did have lunch and they did take the time. On many instances, they weren’t in their workplace carrying out their roles,” Villafañe said.
As a precaution, the six government appointed, or trust, employees involved in the scheme where discharged from their positions—those who were career employees would return to their roles—and the remaining were told to use up their excess sick leave and vacation days, the official explained.
In addition, there will be referrals to the Comptroller’s Office, the Office of Government Ethics, and the Justice Department.
The scheme was discovered after the DTOP secretary warned La Fortaleza of an ATM audit. In the process, DTOP auditors requested access to some ATM information systems, but the employees were hesitant to provide it, Contreras said.
After the warning, Villafañe began an investigation from the Compliance Monitoring Division created by this administration under the chief of staff’s office. That division also investigated possible fraud schemes at other public agencies and corporations, Villafañe said without going into detail.
“Here there is no room for corruption. Whoever thinks that just because they belong to a party they can do whatever they want with public money is seriously mistaken,” warned the chief of staff, who requested other heads of agencies and supervisors to report irregularities in their respective entities.
Villafañe emphasized that they are aware the scheme dates back to 2014. However, he hasn’t ruled out that it began before or that it could occur in other agencies.
“I’ve been informed that there are people allegedly involved who have pictures with me, who have pictures with the governor. Even Melvin Cruz is apparently a municipal legislator in Naranjito. The mayor of Naranjito has already been informed… We won’t hesitate because they belong to this or that ideology,” he stressed.