President of Puerto Rico Surgeons Association says charged contractor dictated agenda at Health Insurance Administration
Velázquez Piñol charged for illegal appropriation of federal funds
PONCE, Puerto Rico – The president of the Surgeons Association of Puerto Rico, Dr. Víctor Ramos, described Thursday the control exercised by businessman Alberto Velázquez Piñol within the Health Insurance Administration of Puerto Rico (ASES by its Spanish acronym).
“It is a sad situation, but we are also disappointed and outraged by the accusations made. We knew from the beginning that the presence of Alberto Velázquez Piñol in the company was probably a problem. Alberto had already had a stint in ASES that was not very good when he was a trustee of the [former Gov. Luis] Fortuño administration and probably the worst audit in history with ASES was with Alberto as trustee,” Ramos said in an interview with WPAB 550.
“When we saw him taking a leading role since the first meetings and presenting himself as the person in charge from AAFAF [Fiscal Agency & Financial Advisory Authority] and Fortaleza [governor’s office], it was him, it wasn’t that anybody at Fortaleza said it and the director (of ASES) did not contradict him. So there was no reason to think it was not true. We thought he is not a government employee and that he had that function. And certainly and clearly we noticed that he was the one who dictated the agenda, the one that decided if our positions were welcomed or not. So he certainly had a lot of control over what was happening,” he said, adding that” time has proven us right.”
In the case of ASES, BDO used the influence of Velázquez Piñol on Director Angela Ávila Marrero to submit proposals and obtain contracts of up to $2.5 million. These contracts would be paid with federal funds. As in the contracts with the Education Department, there were two clauses in the contracts with ASES that prohibited subcontracting and paying lobbyists. Velázquez Piñol received commissions totaling $710,000 from federal funds.
Ramos assured that funds for health programs in Puerto Rico are available until March and April of 2020.
On Wednesday, federal authorities arrested and indicted the former secretary of the Department of Education, Julia Keleher; the former director of the Health Insurance Administration (ASES), Ávila; as well as the former president of BDO, Fernando Scherrer, and sisters Glenda and Mayra Ponce Mendoza. Velázquez Piñol turned himself in, in Connecticut.
The charges are for wire fraud, conspiracy to steal, conspiracy to commit fraud by electronic means, money laundering and conspiracy to launder money.