Dozens of agents, led by the Computer Analysis and Response Team, they were examining documents and municipal computers. (semisquare-x3)
Dozens of agents, led by the Computer Analysis and Response Team, they were examining documents and municipal computers. (Alex Figueroa Cancel)

Yesterday, the federal investigation - originally on alleged favoritism to at least one contractor in the Municipality of San Juan- delved into a complicated plot of alleged falsifications and alterations of documents that could lead to charges of obstruction of justice or concealment against public officials.

It was –at least- clear yesterday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had enough information for a Federal Court judge to issue a search warrant to investigate alleged acts of obstruction in the Purchasing Department of the Municipality of San Juan.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Comptroller keeps an open audit on the actions of this office that, until two months ago, was overseen by the former municipal secretary, architect Magdiel Pérez González, an official who reported to mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto.

Pérez González was the manager of the housing projects financed by the Special Communities Perpetual Trust during the administration of former Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá.

"The scope of this raid is related to potential fraud and obstruction," said Douglas Leff, in charge of the FBI in Puerto Rico.

"We have observed facts that, when we began to investigate, shown some inconsistencies, and that is why we continue to investigate. There is a possibility of falsification," Leff added.

The head of the FBI indicated that they knew that the alleged acts of concealment were happening in the municipality building, but that it was not until recently that they were able to gather sufficient evidence to conduct a raid.

By press time, the FBI was on floors 3, 4, 14 and 15 of the Municipal Tower in Hato Rey. Dozens of agents, led by the Computer Analysis and Response Team, they were examining documents and municipal computers.

At the time of the raid, Leff said they could not say if the investigation is directed at a particular official or even the mayor herself, who yesterday did not give interviews on the issue and commented on the situation with written statements.

“I reiterate to the municipal employees that they have a duty that all their actions are legal, moral and ethica ...Any employee who has not fulfilled their duty or who has not complied with the rules and regulations, after the due process that corroborates such actions, will have to face the consequences,” she stated.

Political controversy

However, the investigation of corruption at the Municipality of San Juan unleashed some criticism of the political opposition and defense from some politicians of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD).

For example, Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares questioned why the external audit that a year ago Cruz Soto announced she would request following allegations of irregularities in the municipality Purchasing Department, had not taken place.

Similarly, New Progressive Party Senator MiguelRomero demanded that the municipality explain why public documents were not protected when the case was publicly known. Representative Georgie Navarro, for his part, was even more severe and anticipated the "fall of the mayor."

Meanwhile, the senator and PPD elect president, Aníbal José Torres, showed distrust towards the FBI investigations against his party officials.

"It does not surprise me that the federal government, through its agencies, does anything just at important times for the Popular Party. I think that strategy was seen long ago," said Torres.

Other mayors, such as Isidro Negrón, San Germán, and Josean Santiago, Comerío, highlighted as positive that Cruz Soto has expressed herself as a cooperator in the investigation.

Rigau’s defense

The president of San Juan Legislature, Marco Rigau, expressed confidence that the mayor was not involved in illegal activities.

"I´ve known her for many years, I am sure that the mayor is an honest woman and she was not implicated in anything in the investigation," said the president of one of the bodies called to oversee the mayor and municipal officials.

Rigau went even further and ruled out opening an investigation in the Municipal Legislature so. He explained that he did not want to give the impression that they may be obstructing the federal investigation already underway. He said they will wait for the FBI investigation to determine if it is necessary to request some corrective action.

On the other hand, opposition women legislators denounced that this case is an example of the lack of transparency in the Municipality of San Juan.

"The mayor likes to say that the central government is not transparent, but that claim applies to her administration," said Camille García, municipal legislator for the New Progressive Party. "Here, ordinances have been approved to oversee the central government, but nothing to the municipal administration".

Carmen Santiago, municipal legislator for the Puerto Rican Independence Party, lamented, that this does does not have a more overseeing role on the mayor.

"I am very worried about everything that is happening in the municipality with these allegations ... It is necessary to have greater accountability. That does not exist. It’s a shame because it is necessary for citizens to have more confidence in institutions. That does not happen in San Juan," said Santiago.

Some of the employees who yesterday left the Municipal Tower in the middle of the raid seemed to agree with Santiago.

"This makes me feel embarrassed," said an official who did not identify herself.

Retaliation

Irregularities in the Purchasing Department were disclosed for the first time when lawyer Yadira Molina, who worked in the division, filed a lawsuit filed in Federal Court.

Molina alleged that she suffered reprisals after notifying that the municipal secretary (Pérez González) took measures so that the purchases of the mayor's office favored BR Solutions, whose owner is Leonel Pereira.

In the lawsuit, filed last February, Molina alleges that after exhausting all administrative channels to report the situation, she resorted to the Office of the Comptroller.

In July - at a time when audits were in progress - staff from the Comptroller's Office raided the Municipal Tower.

El Nuevo Día requested a reaction from Comptroller Yesmín Valdivieso, but her spokeswoman, Lisandra Rivera, said that they would not comment because the audit is still open.

Meanwhile, Molina's lawyer, Edwin Prado, was not surprised about the raid.

"Apparently, it's in reaction to the lawsuit," he said. "We all know that there is an investigation in progress already and a search warrant public knowledge that there is already an investigation in progress and a there would not be search warrant without a no compelling reason".

According to Leff, "most (of the information) came (to the FBI) from the Comptroller of Puerto Rico. We received and continue to receive information from the public and other officials. "

The FBI director could not anticipate if this very year they would file charges associated with this investigation, since it will depend on the volume of documents they would have to review after the raid. He indicated that the federal jurisdiction in this case is given by virtue of the federal funds received by the municipality.

Leff did not rule out that the Puerto Rico Department of Justice may initiate some action separately, because this state agency participates in the investigation and may find violations of state laws.

"It could be because of the extent of the irregularities and the possibility that it involves federal funds and federal assistance to the municipality," Leff said.

Reporters Gloria Ruiz Kuilan and Laura Quintero collaborated with this story.


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