Public Affairs secretary did now-convicted party fundraiser a favor
SAN JUAN – Public Affairs Secretary Jesús Manuel Ortiz accepted Wednesday in federal court to have called the president of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (Prasa), Alberto Lázaro, to recommend Sonia Barreto as director of the utility’s purchasing department, just like Anaudi Hernández and Eder Ortiz asked him as a favor.
“In 2013, I received a call before [Barreto] was appointed to that position. Eder Ortiz and Anaudi called me. In that call, I was asked if I could ask the president of Prasa to evaluate [Barreto], that she was interested in the purchasing-director position. I had a conversation with Alberto Lázaro and told him I had received a recommendation and gave him her name,” Ortiz explained following federal prosecutor Jose Capó Iriarte’s questions.
In his testimony, the Public Affairs secretary said he had seen the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) fundraiser in La Fortaleza several times.
“I believe he was going to meetings [in La Fortaleza]. I don’t know who with, but meetings at La Fortaleza,” he said.
Earlier, Ortiz explained that he had met Hernández at fundraising events held for now Gov. Alejandro García Padilla.
“In 2011, I remember it was very early in 2011, the first [fundraising] event was held in Anaudi’s home. I went to two or three events for Alejandro García Padilla in Anaudi’s home,” he said.
Ortiz added that, in Hernández’s home, a mansion in Aguadilla, other fundraising events for now former House Speaker Jaime Perelló and the PDP senator for the District of Mayagüez-Aguadilla, Mari Tere González, were also held.
“At the events, I remember seeing Héctor Vargas, Eder Ortiz, candidate Alejandro García Padilla of course, Senator Mari Tere González, the then PDP candidate for mayor of Arecibo René something, I can’t remember his last name. I saw Senator Eduardo Bhatia and Representative Jaime Perelló,” he said.
The federal prosecutor then asked Ortiz if he knew defendant Sally López, former director of the Workforce Development Administration (ADL by its Spanish initials).
“I met her in the [Alejandro García Padilla] campaign. She helped with events; from my point of view, organizing fund-raising events,” he said.
To prosecutor Ortiz’s questions, he also replied that he had been with the governor at several job fairs organized by the ADL and Sally López, and knew that the independent contractor for the events was Hernández.
“He told me,” Ortiz said when the prosecutor asked how he knew the PDP fundraiser was in charge of the ADL-sponsored job fairs.
Ortiz testified that, in 2013, when serving as the La Fortaleza press secretary, he visited 3Comm Global’s offices after being invited by Eder Ortiz, a former senator and PDP electoral commissioner. There, he met with Hernández and his associate Héctor Vargas.
He also said he met with Hernández on several occasions in the Puerto Rico Coliseum, and on one occasion saw Sally López and General Services Administrator Luis Castro. The other times he saw the defendant in the coliseum was in other areas of the facility at various concerts.
During cross-examination by López’s defense, headed by attorney Joaquín Monserrate Matienzo, the Public Affairs secretary said the defendant has known the governor “a long time” and that today, Hernández has lost all credibility in his eyes.
Ortiz also said that when the García Padilla administration won, it was common to receive multiple calls from people seeking work and others making recommendations for appointments to various government agencies.
The prosecutor asked Ortiz if there had been other times he called the public water utility’s president to recommend people, as he had in Barreto’s case, and the government official said yes, that he had done so “on many occasions.”
The prosecutor then proceeded to ask Ortiz if he remembered what he had previously testified under oath before a grand jury, which made the Public Affairs secretary nervous, and Ortiz replied he had made other arrangements with Lázaro and asked the prosecutor to please repeat the question to respond properly.
“Tell the members of the jury how many people you referred to Lázaro,” the prosecutor said. “I remember Luis Santiago and Moisés Valentín who were Prasa employees who asked me to call Lázaro,” he replied nervously.
“I’ll repeat the question again. How many times did you receive calls from people who didn’t work in the government asking for a Lázaro appointment?” Capó Iriarte asked. “None,” said Ortiz, the federal prosecution’s 16th witness.
The government corruption trial resumes Thursday at 9 a.m. in U.S. District Judge Pedro Delgado’s courtroom, against co-defendants López; former Prasa Vice President Ivonne Falcón and her sister Marielis; and the former assistant to House Administrator Xavier González, Glenn Rivera Pizarro.
Earlier Wednesday, PDP Sen. Mari Tere González pled the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering the defense regarding $2,000 that appear in a log Hernández allegedly kept listing his contributions to the legislator.