Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Ties of Puerto Rico gov’s brother to ex-Education chief’s firm questioned

By on April 5, 2019

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, first lady Beatriz Rosselló and Education Secretary Julia Keleher, Aug. 14, 2017 (Courtesy)

Jay Rosselló is an attorney specializing in charter schools at a firm led by former Secretary Keleher

SAN JUAN– Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Neváres’ brother Jay Rosselló is the contact person at Hogan Marren Babbo & Rose to assist interested parties in participating in the establishment of charter schools in Puerto Rico, according to the stateside law firm’s website.

The firm also works with consulting company Keleher & Associates, whose chief executive is Julia B. Keheler, who resigned Monday as secretary of Puerto Rico’s Department of Education and who also had a $250,000 contract to advise the government on how to implement its education reform in the same department she directed. The information came to light in the TV program Jugando Pelota Dura (Playing Hardball), which is broadcast on Univision Puerto Rico.

“Hogan Marren Babbo & Rose stands ready to assist you and your organization in exploring participation in this nascent reform effort. Please contact Jay Rosselló, a partner in our Education Law Practice, for more information,” the firm’s website reads.

The firm’s relationship with the Education Department under Keleher dates back to 2017, when it won a $155,000 contract for legal advice and technical assistance in matters of public policy in education, relations with the federal government and with Congress. Said contract is signed by Charlie Rose, a former official of the U.S. Department of Education under former Secretary Arne Duncan, according to Office of the Comptroller’s registry.

A firm named Hogan-Marren LLD also appears as having contracts with the Senate of Puerto Rico during fiscal year 2015, when then-Senate President Eduardo Bhatia was preparing his education reform, which focused on “escuelas alianza,” essentially charter schools, as Keleher herself acknowledged, which were finally approved under the current government administration, under Keleher’s purview.

On Thursday night, the president of the minority Popular Democratic Party, Sen. Aníbal José Torres, asked Gov. Rosselló Nevares to explain any link between the Education Department, former Secretary Keleher and the law firm where his brother works.

“Governor Rosselló must immediately clarify the allegations that a brother of his is related to a company that offers guidance on charter schools and that in turn is linked to the former secretary of the Department of Education, Julia Keleher,” Torres said in a statement.

In a statement Friday morning, Gov. Rosselló said his brother “has no contract with either the Department of Education or any other agency of the government of Puerto Rico. He does not have one and has never had one.”

Regarding the “case highlighted by the media,” the governor added,” it is a contract with the Department of Education that was attended by another partner of the firm, who Julia Keleher knows years ago, since they worked together in the federal Department of Education. That contract is not in force and ended in 2018.”

The governor stressed that the “speculation of irregularities or conflicts of interest are false, defamatory and malicious,” and that he would “fight attacks on my family, wherever they come from.”

Pandora’s box opened

The information regarding the relationship of the governor’s brother with the firm associated with Keleher & Associates is the latest development in the saga of reports on the former secretary, whose resignation was announced Monday night and came about as Keleher is reportedly being investigated by the FBI amid alleged irregularities in the awarding of Education Department contracts.

Media reports point to the FBI raiding the San Juan home of a senior partner at Keleher & Associates as part of the investigation. Reportedly, Keleher left the management of the company in the hands of her associate while she served as secretary of Education. According to the Keleher Associates’ website, the only senior consultant at the company is Vanessa Monroy Gonzague, who in the past worked as an outside adviser to the Department of Education during the administration of Gov. Luis Fortuño.

Meanwhile, sources of two media outlets in San Juan indicated that authorities have asked the court for access to security cameras installed in the building where Keleher resides in San Juan. The investigation seems to be related to alleged influence peddling related to contracts with the department, which has a consolidated budget of more than $3.4 billion.

Allegedly, a focus of the investigation is the contract for “Tus Valores Cuentan” (Your Values Count), an initiative that was canceled after an internal audit revealed irregularities in its granting.

Another issue Justice’s Public Integrity Division is investigating in Washington, D.C., is precisely the relationship of the then-secretary and her firm, Keleher & Associates, with the Puerto Rico Educational Foundation (PREF), which was created in the private sector at Keleher’s request to raise funds for the Education Department and schools. PREF Executive Director Enid Reyes told Metro that federal authorities have not contacted the foundation.

Former Puerto Rico Education secretary terminates contract with fiscal agency

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