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Rep. Charbonier, 3 others arrested in FBI corruption probe

By on August 17, 2020

Rep. María Milagros Charbonier (Agustín Criollo / CB file)

Puerto Rico lawmaker accused of inflating employee’s salary, receiving kickbacks; husband and son among arrested

SAN JUAN— The FBI arrested María Milagros “Tata” Charbonier, a representative-at-large for the New Progressive Party (NPP), Monday morning alongside three other people, including her husband, Orlando Montes, and son Orlando Gabriel Montes-Charbonier, for participating in an illegal kickback scheme in which the Puerto Rico lawmaker allegedly stole $100,000 in state funds.

As detailed in a grand jury indictment, filed Aug. 7, Charbonier illegally inflated the salary of one of her employees, Frances Acevedo, by $2,900 a month, under the condition that she pay a commission of $1,000 to $1,500 a month to Charbonier, her husband and adult son.

Through the alleged scheme, which began in September 2017, Acevedo, who is also among those arrested, paid Charbonier either with cash or through ATH Móvil, a money-transferring mobile application.

In all, the indictment lists 13 charges ranging from theft of public funds, bribery and kickbacks to honest services wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. One last charge, obstruction of justice, alleges that Charbonier—who heads the Ethics committee at the House of Representatives—deleted messages from the chat application Whatsapp as soon as she found out about the FBI probe.

A popular yet divisive figure in the NPP, Charbonier gained local fame and plenty of critics due to her religion-heavy rhetoric and far-right positions on LGBTQ rights. Most recently, she co-authored the island’s new civil code, a document that according to some observers scaled back some rights for women and disenfranchised communities.

House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Núñez reportedly said that despite the presumption of innocence, he has asked the disgraced lawmaker to resign. Charbonier paid her $25,000 bail for her release.

Although Charbonier consistently ranked among the top vote-getters during previous elections, her political future was first thrown in doubt last month, when federal agents visited her house in Río Grande and confiscated her personal cellphone. At the time, Charbonier downplayed the incident, saying that agents had assured her that she was not the target of any investigation.

However, in the primaries that ended Sunday, Charbonier received the fewest votes out of any pre-candidate for representative-at-large under the NPP, with many observers pointing at the FBI probe as the main reason for her defeat.

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