SAN JUAN — A Puerto Rican mayor is under investigation for allegedly requesting donations from trusted employees to pay off campaign debt.
The Puerto Rico Office of the Special Independent Prosecutor’s Panel (PFEI) announced on Wednesday that it will assign an independent prosecutor to investigate Ponce Mayor Luis Irizarry Pabón at the recommendation of the Department of Justice.
Irizarry Pabón, a member of the Popular Democratic Party, allegedly solicited monetary donations from trusted employees to pay off a loan used to finance the 2020 campaign that led to him unseating former Mayor María “Mayita” Meléndez Altieri, a member of the New Progressive Party (PNP).
“Today I received a notification from [PFEI] concerning the designation of a prosecutor to thoroughly investigate the referral by the Department of Justice. I have always respected our institutions of law and order, which is why I am plainly confident this investigation will clear up the referenced situation and that once and for all demonstrate that there has been no crime on my part,” Irizarry Pabón said in a written statement.
Irizarry Pabón has also been accused of participating in a kickback scheme wherein he had two other functionaries request money from employees that were appointed to the city council.
He has refused to consider stepping down from his position during the ongoing investigation, signaling that he believes the investigation is politically motivated. He claims the prosecutor on the case is tied to the PNP and that the prosecutor’s mother is an aide to PNP Sen. Thomas Rivera Schatz, the current minority in the Puerto Rico Senate.
In a written statement posted to Facebook, Sen. Rivera Schatz said “those who have betrayed the confidence of [Ponce’s] electorate will respond to [people from Ponce].” He also expressed support for PNP politician Pablo Colón, who Sen. Rivera Schatz hopes will unseat Irizarry Pabón in the next election.
Earlier this year, Irizarry Pabón received media attention after reports that his wife, Miyady Velázquez Pagán, was conducting LGBTQ conversion therapy sessions. In a podcast interview, Velázquez Pagán described gay people as “confused” and falsely claimed that homosexuality resulted from abuse at a young age. Her statements were repudiated by local queer groups and led to resignations from local government workers.
Irizarry Pabón attempted to distance himself from his wife’s statements, claiming they “did not have anything to do with the municipality of Ponce.” However, according to local newspapers, Ponce’s first lady had requested a list of LGBTQ people who worked for the municipality to treat them with “love therapy,” as she called it.
Velázquez Pagán reportedly never received the list.
Carlos Edill Berríos Polanco is the Caribbean correspondent for Latino Rebels, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Twitter: @Vaquero2XL