Senator Nelson Cruz Santiago, former Commissioner of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration José R. Burgos and former Administrator of Family Socioeconomic Development (ADSEF, Spanish Acronym) Surima Quiñones Suárez are among those referred by the Justice Department to the Special Independent Prosecutor Panel (PFEI, Spanish Acronym), sources confirmed to El Nuevo Día.
They join Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, against whom Justice recommended the appointment of a Special Independent Prosecutor in one of the six investigations referred to the agency tasked with prosecuting high-level officials in Puerto Rico.
Senator Evelyn Vázquez, pointed as one of the people investigated by Justice, said yesterday that she has not received any notice from the Special Independent Prosecutor´s Office. On Tuesday, Justice, not the PFEI, sent the referred officials a letter notifying them of the interagency process. Sources agree that she and her husband, Peter Muller, are included in the referrals.
According to sources close to the cases, there was a total of 17 referrals signed, and 14 of those recommended to appoint a special independent prosecutor. Some of those involved could have received more than one letter, as was the case with the governor.
In the case of Burgos, the facts investigated leading to the referral are still unknown, which was confirmed to this newspaper, by three sources close to the former official.
La Fortaleza announced Burgos’ resignation Tuesday, in the statement, Vázquez Garced regrets the departure of the official, which she attributed to personal matters. However, the same document cites the official’s resignation letter stating that “the current political environment does not allow me to carry out my duties in the manner I had committed and proposed.”
The rest of those involved, however, are linked to an alleged scheme in which they distributed aid to the victims of the January earthquakes this year following partisan considerations.
Senator Cruz Santiago, meanwhile, admitted he received the letter notifying him that they had recommended the appointment of an independent special prosecutor, a matter that left him puzzled because, until Tuesday, he thought he was a witness and not a suspect.
He indicated that he is currently waiting for the PFEI's determination to accept or reject Justice's recommendation to assign him a special prosecutor, a matter which according to PFEI President Nydia Cotto Vives, could take days or weeks, depending on the complexity of the files they are still receiving from Justice.
"I have the same (letter) they sent the governor, according to what she posted on Twitter. So far, I only know that the governor and I have received letters. They say there are 16 people in the referrals, but I don't know. If it is about aid distribution, I understand that there is no violation (of the law), although I don't know what´s in those files. But regarding what I know about the facts, there is no violation," said Cruz Santiago.
The senator said that the prosecutors interviewed him but never read him his rights.
Meanwhile, Surima Quiñones Suárez's lawyer, Frank Torres Viada, confirmed the referral against his client in the mishandling of aid during the earthquakes.
"(Surima Quiñones) received a notice from the Department of Justice essentially informing her that the Division of Public Integrity and Comptroller's Affairs made a referral to the PFEI recommending the appointment of a special prosecutor to further investigate allegations about the distribution of food through the program under the ADSEF," the attorney said.
Family Secretary Eddie A. García Fuentes announced May 12 that he was firing Suárez Quiñones after the agency's internal investigation revealed irregularities in the distribution of food purchased with The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) funds.
Although administrative investigators found no evidence that Quiñones Suárez gave instructions to withhold supplies to be distributed by New Progressive Party (NPP) figures, they did indicate that Sen. Vázquez had "full knowledge" of the logistics and "appeared to have the authority to give instructions. It can be concluded that Quiñones Suárez allowed Sen. Vázquez to intervene in the form and manner the food would be distributed," reads the report prepared by attorneys Ernie Caban and Ismael Ortiz.
Until yesterday, neither Justice nor the PFEI had publicly informed who the people involved in these cases were, a matter that breaks with the usual standard between the two entities to handle these processes.
It is known, however, that the Justice Department’s investigation arose from a letter Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, spokesman of House Popular minority, sent to that agency last January.
He recommended the Justice Department to evaluate possible violations to the Penal Code, specifically Article 252 on the illegal use of public works or services, and Article 261 on undue influence.
In his letter, he mentioned that Glorimar Andújar, former head of the Family Department, said she was fired by the governor for suspending Quiñones Suárez after learning of the alleged scheme to distribute supplies applying partisan considerations.
On Friday, now former Justice Secretary Dennise Longo Quiñones signed six referrals that were delivered to the PFEI. Two of the referrals were against the governor and were completed by Longo Quiñones just before she left office at the request of Vázquez Garced.
The governor alleged Tuesday that Longo Quiñones' departure was for intervening in a federal investigation involving the official's mother, and said the investigation against her is "rigged," a matter denied by Longo Quiñones.
Reporters Osman Pérez and Benjamín Torres Gotay collaborated in this story.