Abel Nazario (semisquare-x3)
Abel Nazario. (GFR Media)

Thirteen years after the murder of Canadian businessman Adam Anhang, the trial in which his widow, Áurea Vázquez Rijos, and her co-accused were found guilty was the case that attracted the most attention, in 2018, in  Federal Court of Puerto Rico .

After 26 days of trial, a jury found Vázquez Rijos, his sister Marcia Vázquez Rijos and his former brother-in-law José Ferrer Sosa, guilty of  paying a hitman to kill Anhang.

The case gained notoriety not only because it took 13 years to take Vázquez to trial, but also because of the intrigue and conspiracy plot surrounding the case and the accusation against the widow and her relatives. The sentence is scheduled for February 27.

Another case aired in Federal Court this year, was the trial of Oscar Martínez Hernández, alias "Cali", for the murder of Osvaldo Albarati Casañas, a correctional officer at the island´s metropolitan detention center in Guaynabo in 2013.

Meanwhile, former teacher Yaira Cotto Flores was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison for taking a 14-year-old student to a motel for sexual intercourse.

In another well-known case, a jury ruled in favor of Francisco Reyes Caparrós, a former employee of the federal prosecutor's office who sued the agency for an alleged pattern of retaliation and harassment at work. The prosecutor´s office submitted arguments for the judge to issue a verdict based on the law or to hold a new trial, after alleging that there were errors in the process.

Major arrests

The arrest of New Progressive Party (PNP) Senator Abel Nazario by federal authorities caused great impact this year. 

Nazario was arrested on charges of fraud during his tenure as mayor of Yauco, for allegedly falsifying documents. The investigation was carried out by the federal Department of Labor.

On the other hand, this year, federal authorities arrested the mayor of Sabana Grande, Miguel "Papín" Ortiz, for allegedly participating in a scheme to obtain fraudulent federal funds from the Department of Education.

Meanwhile, during 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested seven policemen from the Drug Division of Caguas on charges related to the operation of an alleged criminal scheme, which included keeping drugs and money they obtained as part of their duties.

Earlier this year, Juan R. Pedro Vidal - for whom the federal prosecutor's office warned in May that they will seek to certify it as a death penalty case - was arrested. Pedro Vidal is one of six accused in carjacking and kidnapping case where one of the two victims was killed in 2016.

The arrest of the reggaeton singer "Farruko" -whose name is Efrén Reyes Rosado- on his return from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, also became famous. Federal agents found $ 51,802 in his suitcases, even though he had stated that he was not carrying more than $ 10,000.

In addition, federal authorities arrested two men for bomb threats in emails and charged 22 people with fraud against the Lottery of Puerto Rico.

The federal prosecutor's office wrapped-up the year with the arrest of Rolando Rivera Solís, the main defendant - of four co-accused - for the murder of banker Maurice Spagnoletti, in 2011.

Other cases

During 2018, the district court also presented arguments related to the political status of the island, when alleged acts of discrimination were reported in the federal Supplemental Security Income program and Medicaid matching funds. A similar argument was also raised in a death penalty case.

Another complex case aired in Federal Court was the Police Reform, which arose from an agreement reached in 2013 to put an end to the US government's lawsuit against the government of Puerto Rico for civil rights violations by La Uniformada (Puerto Rico Police Department).

Before congratulating the Police for the progress in the reform in December, federal judge Gustavo Gelpí had to issue several warnings to the island's government.

Gelpí ordered to establish a new police academy by February 2019, and in August he even mentioned the possibility of a receivership and, in November, appointed a "federal monitor" to identify failures and recommend solutions. This measure is due to the fact that, since October, federal monitor Arnaldo Claudio began the phase of evaluating compliance with the provisions in the reform agreements.

As part of that process, Claudio interviewed pilots of the Puerto Rico Joint Forces of Rapid Action (FURA, Spanish acronym), who admitted to being pressured to comply with orders to transport unauthorized civilians in police helicopters.

This is how a federal investigation started  and it is now in the hands of the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Department of Transportation.

Likewise, the FBI searched the Purchasing Division of the Municipality of San Juan and the federal authorities assumed jurisdiction over the investigation on alleged ghost employees in the Capitol.

The lawsuit filed by a former municipal police officer against the former mayor of Guaynabo Héctor O'Neill, the request of the Catholic Church to invoke the Bankruptcy Law, and the agreement of the University of Puerto Rico to return $ 1.8 million to the federal government after reaching a deal regarding a funds mismanagement case are among other famous cases in Federal Court.

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