Former Rosselló Government Officials Arrested by FBI for Corruption Charges

Jul 10, 2019
4:33 PM

US Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez Vélez (center) speaks at a July 10 press conference in San Juan (Photo by Natalia Rodríguez Medina/Latino Rebels)

SAN JUAN, Puerto RicoAfter weeks of speculation, the FBI conducted Wednesday arrests of Puerto Rico’s former Secretary the Department of Education (DOE), Julia Keleher, and former Health Insurance Administration (ASES) director, Ángela Ávila Marrero. Both were indicted with other parties for a combined 32 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and theft of government funds.

Also charged were BDO consultant Alberto Velázquez Piñol, allegedly involved in a conspiracy with both the DOE and ASES; BDO Puerto Rico president Fernando Scherrer Caillet, charged with conspiracy and money laundering; and sisters Mayra Ponce Mendoza and Glenda Ponce Mendoza of Colón & Ponce, also charged with conspiracy.

During a press conference at the U.S. Attorney General’s office for the District of Puerto Rico, federal prosecutor Rosa Emilia Rodríguez Vélez said that both Keleher and Ávila Marrero used their executive positions in their respective departments to commit fraud.

Keleher, whose legacy in the DOE includes an annual salary of over $250,000 and the closing of multiple schools in Puerto Rico, was indicted by a grand jury on one count of wire fraud conspiracy and 10 counts of wire fraud, and was also accused of conspiring to commit fraud with Velázquez Piñol and Scherrer-Caillet.

ASES former director Ávila Marrero resigned almost two weeks ago after rumors began circulating that the FBI was investigating BDO’s contracts with the agency. Ávila Marrero was the first one to be arrested on Wednesday morning.

The president of BDO Puerto Rico, Fernando Scherrer-Caillet, is accused of conspiracy, government theft and money laundering conspiracy. His associate, BDO consultant Alberto Velázquez Piñol, is also being accused of the charges stated above, six counts of money laundering and was also accused of conspiring with both Keleher and Ávila Marrero.

Velázquez Piñol seems to be at the center of it all, according to Rodríguez Vélez, who confirmed he was the connection between BDO, the DOE and ASES. The indictments claim the consultant used his connections with both department heads to give BDO more contracts within each agency.

Through his company, Azur, Velázquez Piñol received around $219,059 in commissions from the BDO contracts with DOE and over $700,000 from the BDO contracts with ASES, meaning BDO used federal funds to pay for Velázquez’ Piñol’s commissions.

In addition, sisters Mayra Ponce Mendoza and Glenda Ponce Mendoza of Colón & Ponce are accused of conspiracy to obtain contracts of almost $100,000 between the DOE and Colón & Ponce through corrupted bidding. Keleher is believed to be very good friends with the sisters.

Keleher was arrested in Washington D.C., where she plead not guilty and was set free on bail. She was given until July 17 to present herself in Puerto Rico. Velázquez Piñol turned himself in Connecticut, and the remaining four pleaded not guilty at a federal court in Puerto Rico, according to El Nuevo Día.

Rosselló Responds

Governor Ricardo Rosselló was vacationing in France when early-morning news of the indictments hit Puerto Rico. He quickly released a statement condemning the alleged behavior.

“As governor, I assume the responsibility and commitment to fight that evil in all instances, until I can make Puerto Rico an example of the values and principles on which a more just, dignified, and productive society is built,” Rosselló said.

“I reiterate that our administration will not tolerate corruption and that anyone who fails trust must pay with the full weight of the law. I also reiterate the call for collaboration with the law and order agencies that work in these cases,” he concluded.

About an hour later, Rosselló issued another statement, saying that he was ending his vacation and heading back to Puerto Rico.

“As I said last week, for months I had planned this family trip, which is my first vacation in two and a half years. Recognizing the importance and significance of the arrests that have taken place today, as well as their impact on the government, I have decided to return immediately. It is time to be present on the island and reiterate the message personally: the agenda of this Government does not stop, despite those who have incorrectly decided to treason the trust of the People,” Rosselló said in his second statement.

Both Keleher and Ávila Marrero were members of the Rosselló administration. In the past few weeks, two members of Rosselló’s inner circle, Chief of Staff Ricardo Llenari, and former legal advisor Alfonso Orona, testified and provided documents on Velázquez Piñol in front of the grand jury carrying out this investigation.

Rodríguez Vélez denied Rosselló’s involvement with the investigation, and confirmed that this investigation has not concluded, leading to speculation that more arrests are coming. However, the indictments did mention an unnamed individual, who was identified as a campaign manager for the 2016 elections in Puerto Rico. Rodríguez Vélez said the campaign manager’s name would not be named, even though speculation suggests that the unnamed individual was Rosselló’s campaign manager.

The island’s top federal prosecutor also confirmed that this investigation was separate from what former Secretary of Treasury, Raúl Maldonado Gautier, brought forward.

For the full list of charges, read the indictment below:


Natalia Rodríguez Medina is the 2019 summer correspondent for Latino Rebels. She is a member the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY’s Class of 2019. Natalia tweets from @nataliarodmed.