Two contractors, 1 Puerto Rico Senate Employee arrested for ‘ghost employee’ scheme
FBI special agent: It is now open season on apprehending all those responsible
SAN JUAN – On Tuesday, a federal grand jury returned an 18-count indictment charging three individuals with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 10 substantive counts of wire fraud, intentional misapplication of property by an agent of an organization receiving federal funds, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.
According to the allegations in the indictment, since about 2016 until June 2018, defendants Chrystal Robles-Báez, Isoel Sánchez-Santiago, and Ángel Figueroa-Cruz engaged in a scheme to defraud money and property from the government of Puerto Rico “by means of materially false and fraudulent representations and promises. The defendants sought to accomplish their scheme to defraud by billing, approving and collecting for contractual professional services work that was either not completed, or was performed in contravention to the explicit terms of the contracts.
As alleged in the indictment, the defendants participated in lawful electoral campaign activities for candidates to elected offices during the 2016 Puerto Rico general elections. After the general elections in late 2016, the defendants began to explore employment opportunities with the Government of Puerto Rico, including contracts for professional services.
On Jan. 1, 2017, defendant Chrystal Robles-Báez incorporated Global Instant Consulting Group, Inc. (GICG). The purpose of the corporation was to provide administrative and political counseling, workshops and public relations, and consulting. On the same day, defendant Isoel Sánchez-Santiago incorporated International Legislative and Governmental Consulting Group, Inc. (ILGCG). The purpose of the corporation was to provide governmental administrative consulting, creation of proposals, offering of workshops, and legislative process and parliamentary procedures.
“In the process of establishing the corporations, defendant Robles-Báez solicited through interstate wire communications necessary documentation from various departments, agencies, and dependencies of the Government of Puerto Rico, including but not limited to: (a) the Department of State; (b) the Treasury Department; and (c) the Police of Puerto Rico. Eventually, the defendants entered into professional services contracts with the Government of Puerto Rico. Specifically, the P.R. Senate and the P.R. House of Representatives,” the Justice Department’s release reads.
According to the indictment, defendant Robles-Báez, on numerous occasions certified and requested payments indicating that she had attended the Office of Governmental Affairs to provide professional services as detailed in the two GICG contracts, when in fact on those days the defendant did not attend the Office of Governmental Affairs or provide professional services, Justice explained.
“Additionally, defendants Robles-Báez and Sánchez-Santiago utilized the personal identifying information of numerous individuals, without their knowledge or consent, in order to give the impression that defendant Robles-Báez, as an ‘Intergovernmental Coordinator’ on behalf of GICG, had provided those individuals with professional services, when in fact no such services were ever requested by those individuals,” the release reads.
Furthermore, defendant Robles-Báez utilized the assistance, contacts, and services of defendant Sánchez-Santiago in order to fraudulently justify work allegedly completed under the GICG contracts.
“Defendant Ángel Figueroa-Cruz, who was the Executive Director of the Office of Governmental Affairs in the Puerto Rico Senate, falsely certified as correct, the information contained in the bills/invoices for payment submitted by defendant Robles-Báez as an ‘Intergovernmental Coordinator’ on behalf of GICG in support of payment. Defendants Robles-Báez and Sánchez-Santiago divided the proceeds of the conspiracy and scheme to defraud,” according to the department.
“This is the first indictment charging the use of ‘ghost employees’ to defraud the people of Puerto Rico. The defendants’ reprehensible conduct undermines the trust that the public places in our government,” said Rodríguez-Vélez.
Douglas A. Leff, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI, San Juan Division said: “Through the Puerto Rico Secretary of Justice’s referral of this case, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office diligent prosecution, it is now open season on apprehending all those responsible for this corrupt scheme to defraud the People of Puerto Rico. Those who perpetrated the scheme, as well as their family and friends who benefitted from it, can either cooperate quickly or they will receive one last gratuity from the federal government: A free ride in the back seat of an FBI squad car.”
“The Puerto Rico Department of Justice started this investigation, and our commitment to fight corruption along with federal authorities remains undeterred, no matter where it comes from. This case is an example of our joint efforts to identify and process anyone who unlawfully benefits from the government, abusing positions of trust and misusing public funds,” said Wanda Vázquez-Garced, Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Justice.
The defendants are facing a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years.