The mayors of Humacao, Reinaldo “Rey” Vargas Rodríguez, and the mayor of Aguas Buenas, Javier García Pérez.
The mayors of Humacao, Reinaldo “Rey” Vargas Rodríguez, and the mayor of Aguas Buenas, Javier García Pérez. (David Villafañe Ramos)

The mayors of Humacao, Reinaldo “Rey” Vargas Rodríguez, and the mayor of Aguas Buenas, Javier García Pérez, were arrested today, Thursday, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after a federal grand jury indicted them on charges of conspiracy, soliciting bribes, and extortion.

The Puerto Rico U.S. Attorney, Stephen Muldrow, explained in a press conference that the corruption scheme in which the officials were involved is a sequel to the already known pattern with two companies: JR Asphalt and Waste Collection.

Regarding García Pérez, Muldrow said that the indictment states that he was involved in corruption acts from 2017 to 2021.

“(Garcia Perez) received cash payments from two contractors. In exchange for these payments, he agreed to withhold contracts for the respective contractors. (The contractors) were engaged in garbage collection, asphalt, and debris collection,” Muldrow specified.

Añadió que Vargas Rodríguez también participó de un patrón similar, pero en su caso, comenzó desde marzo a abril de 2021.

He added that Vargas Rodríguez also participated in a similar pattern, but in his case, it started from March to April 2021.

García Pérez, according to the indictment, accumulated some $32,000 as part of the kickbacks, while Vargas Rodríguez, in Humacao, received approximately $15,000.

If found guilty, both face prison sentences that include five years for conspiracy, 10 years for bribery, and 20 years for extortion.

Joseph González, Special Agent in charge of the FBI in Puerto Rico, and the Chief Public Integrity Section in Washington D. C., Corey Amundson were at the press conference. Amundson said the team will continue to collaborate with federal agencies on the island to prosecute any official involved in acts of corruption.

“We will continue to use any resources to support the FBI and the prosecution. Today is not the beginning of anything nor the end of anything, it is the continuation of the prosecution of corruption,” he said.

With these two indictments against the mayors of Humacao and Aguas Buenas, Muldrow highlighted that 51 federal corruption indictments have been filed on the island from 2020 until today. Of that total, 50 indictments are against individuals and one against an entity.

Earlier this morning, attorney Osvaldo Carlo said he is the legal representative of both mayors.

“Physically, they are in the federal court area, in the federal Bureau of Investigation building,” the lawyer said in a radio interview (WKAQ - 580 AM) while indicating that they are being processed and will later be transferred to the federal area.

He indicated that they have not received the indictment yet. The hearing would be held before federal judge Marcos López, they are waiting to confirm whether he would participate in person or online.

“We hope that this is a routine white-collar case, that the bail is not excessive. These two officials knew about rumors that they were being investigated,” he added.

Vargas Rodríguez was serving his first term as mayor of Humacao, while his counterpart in Aguas Buenas was in his second term.

“Once again, the reputation of those of us who are in public office is stained and fuels the discontent and distrust that people express every time they hear of a similar situation,” Camuy Mayor Gabriel Hernández, president of the Federation of Mayors, said in written statements.

“There is no reason to deviate from sound administration or justification for acts of corruption. We have the tools, resources, and support available to maintain ethical principles. That is what we ask for,” he added.

These two arrests bring to five the number of mayors arrested so far this term for being involved in corruption schemes. The mayors of Humacao (Vargas Rodríguez), Aguas Buenas (García Pérez), Guaynabo (Ángel Pérez Otero), Cataño (Félix Delgado Montalvo) and Guayama (Eduardo Cintrón) have been charged for corruption. The vice mayor of Trujillo Alto, Radamés Benítez Cardona, and the former mayor of Aguas Buenas, Luis Arroyo Chiques, join the list.

Last December, newspaper stories revealed that the mayor of Humacao was allegedly being investigated by federal authorities. In December, the municipality canceled contracts with J.R. Asphalt, which amounted to $6.8 million, following the arrests of the mayors of Cataño and Guaynabo.

“I have not been contacted by any state or federal agency,” the mayor told this newspaper in mid-April.

Meanwhile, the municipality of Aguas Buenas had contracts with both J.R. Asphalt and Waste Collection.

Until the f term that ended in 2016, the main contractor for the municipality of Aguas Buenas was Betteroads Asphalt, with $8.8 million in contracts between 2005 and 2016. By that time J.R. Asphalt had contracts signed with that municipality for $1.8 million. However, that amount began to grow, and between 2017 to 2021 contracts reached $4.3 million and were awarded by Mayor Javier García Perez, who was sworn into office in January 2017.

Meanwhile, garbage collection in Aguas Buenas was in the hands of the V.A. Waste-Aguas Buenas company, with a $7.8 million contract that expired on September 30, 2016. Before that term expired, former Mayor Luis Arroyo Chiqués awarded a contract to Waste Collection on February 22, 2016, that was to begin in October 2016.

That contract, for $14.3 million, was canceled on March 14, 2016, because the Municipal Legislature did not approve it. And despite the Law of Autonomous Municipalities, in effect at the time the contract was granted, do not require mayors to have the approval of the Municipal Legislature for these contracts.

However, that same day that the contract was canceled, Arroyo Chiqués granted a new contract to Waste Collection for $10.4 million, a smaller amount than the original one. That contract would be in effect until 2026, but in January 2022, Mayor García Pérez canceled it when the owner of that company, Oscar Santamaría, had already pleaded guilty to bribing other mayors.

Between 2017 to 2019, García Pérez awarded Waste Collection several contracts for debris collection totaling $2.9 million.

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