Campaign Finance Reform Urged
Fajardo Charged, Bail Set
Investigations: Blue Ribbon Committee, Rodriguez, Faccio
Army South Considers Relocation
Governor Urged To Reform Political Campaign Financing System
January 24, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) - Acting U.S. District Attorney Guillermo Gil and Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña urged the Legislature and Gov. Sila Calderon to reform the island's political campaign financing system in order to put an end to corruption.
If political parties continue to impose fundraising quotas to agency heads, corruption will prevail, Gil warned.
"You can't ask the heads of agencies for exorbitant amounts of money when you know there is no way for them to raise those funds through their employments. The only way in which they can comply with such quotas, with those demands from the parties, the only way they can do that is by asking the contractors. Once they have done that they are bordering corruption," Gil said insisting anew on his request to authorized telephone conversations recordings.
Gil made his comments upon announcing the indictment of former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo, who along with three of his employees and 14 contractors were charged with participating in an extortion and money laundering scheme, receiving kickbacks of up to $4.3 million of which $1 million went to the New Progressive Party (NPP).
Gil, however, was emphatic when he said the case should not be turned into a political issue, as it is the system for financing political campaign that allows corruption.
"I hope you don't turn this case into something political, this is corruption what we are taking about. This is not to be used as a political ball," Gil said.
Fajardo Charged With Corruption
By Proviana Colon Diaz
January 23, 2002
Former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo, two of his former employees and fourteen contractors were charged on Wednesday by federal authorities for a money laundering scheme that lead to kickbacks of up to $4.3 million out of which $1.5 million went to the New Progressive Party (NPP).
Authorities have already recovered close to $1 million, $390,000 alone were found in Fajardo's home.
According to the indictment Fajardo began extorting contractors in 1994 to comply with required quotas imposed by the NPP. Somewhere along the way the former Education Secretary however, began to request money for personal purposes, which lead to even the title transferring of a $750,000 property.
Indicted along with Fajardo was his special assistant Maritere Perez Huertas and the Department's Deputy Secretary Jose Omar Cruz Mercado.
Fajardo and Cruz Mercado hired the services of former teacher Ruperto Vazquez Lopez and formed RV Research Management Group where funds from the extortions were deposited.
In the begging, the money in cash was kept in a safety box within the Department but with time the money in the box was not only used to pay for NPP invoices, but for their personal purposes.
Throughout the time however, Fajardo and Cruz Mercado received bills through Perez Huertas from the NPP which they paid with the cash available in the safety box, and by direct requests to the contractors.
"They [Fajardo, Cruz and Perez] requested and demanded the Education Department contractors to pay for those bills," U.S. Acting District Attorney Guillermo Gil said.
From 1997 to 2000 the group requested and issued fake bills from the contractors to be deposited in RV Research Management Group.
Federal authorities charged 14 contractors including Jesus Rivera Class, president and owner of Quality Educational Services, Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce President Richard D'Costa Ofrey, who is also the owner of Universal Career Consulting and his wife Victoria Vargas Esquilin President and Owner of World Learning System, Inc.
Gil identified the others contractors indicted as Angel Pabon-Molina and his wife Sylvia Janet Lopez, owners of SAJA Creative Projects; Jose Santos Rodriguez, Victor J. Alvarez-Ramos, Fidel Alonso Valls, President of the Bank Institute Norman T. Olson and Eduardo Fuertes Pasarell.
Also indicted was attorney Roberto Bonano-Rodriguez, who was granted contracts to reclassify the Education Department personnel.
The group was charged with one count of conspiracy to interfere, and one count of interference with commerce by extortion induced by economic fear, and or under color of official right, one count of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering.
The investigation, which began in March 2000, is an ongoing one, and could lead to more arrests.
Bail Set For Those Implicated In Education Fraud Scheme
January 23, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) - U.S. District Court Magistrate Jesus Castellanos set bail between $75,000 and $150,000 to those implicated in the $4.3 million fraud scheme at the Education Department that has been attributed to former Education Chief Victor Fajardo.
Bail was set against Fajardo at $200,000; and against Jose Omar Cruz Mercado at $150,000.
Fajardo Special Aide Maritere Perez Huertas' bail was set at $75,000, while bail for contractors Jose Santos Rodriguez, Eduardo Fuertes Pasarell, Victor Alvarez Ramos, and Jesus Emilio Rivera Class, was set at $150,000 each.
Victoria Vargas Esquilin, Marta Santos Sanchez, attorney Roberto Bonano Rodriguez, Chamber of Commerce President Richard D'Costa, and Instituto de Banca President Fidel Alonso Valls were imposed a bail of $100,000 each.
They all entered a not guilty plea and were given ten days to pay or guarantee the bails with their own properties.
Although Castellanos did not allow Fajardo, Cruz, Vazquez, Ramos, Pabon and Lopez to enter a guilty plea during the initial appearance before the court, he did allow them to announce their intention to file it on Thursday.
Fajardo, Cruz, Vazquez, Ramos, Pabon and Lopez said they would all file on Thursday and motion to change their plea to guilty.
Vazquez, Ramos, Pabon, and Lopez were requested to post a $100,000 bail.
Comptroller Begins Investigation On Blue Ribbon Committee
January 23, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) - The Commonwealth Comptroller's Office initiated an investigation on "Blue Ribbon Committee" members and requested all the invoices presented by the committee members during the months of November and December 2001 at the State Department, according to published reports.
Committee President David Noriega, for his part, said the "comptroller has his priorities crooked up," and that "he has lost control," according to the report.
Nieves Aponte Santiago, the Comptroller's Office auditor, requested the invoices presented by Blue Ribbon Committee members. For her part, State Department Administration Deputy Secretary Esperanza Ruiz said the information would be available within two hours.
Rodriguez To Appear Before The Senate Ethics Committee
January 23, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) - The Senate Ethics Committee will meet on Feb. 1 to hear Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Sen. Maribel Rodriguez in a private hearing where she will have the opportunity to defend her position under oath on the three complaints presented against her.
The Committee Chairman Eudaldo Baez Galib indicated that if necessary, the hearings that will take place in the Senate Distinguished Women Hall could last until Sunday.
On the hearings the committee members will be the judges and the investigator Rene Arrillaga Armendariz would act as a prosecutor, while the senator's legal advisor Joaquin Monserrate Matienzo will accompany the PDP senator.
The complaints against the PDP legislator are based on alleged irregularities in the use of public funds while attending the Puerto Rican Parade in New York, campaign contributions and information on her financial statements presented before the Government Ethics Committee.
Justice Dept. Orders A Preliminary Investigation On Faccio
January 23, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) - Justice Secretary Annabelle Rodriguez ordered a preliminary investigation on the presumably "illegal influence" of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) campaign manager Irving Faccio over the contracts granted to a PDP businessman at the Education department.
Rodriguez announced her decision hours after former New Progressive Party Representative (NPP) Carlos Diaz requested an investigation on the visit that Faccio paid to Education Secretary Cesar Rey accompanied by Quality Educational Services President Jesus Emilio Rivera Class, who is under investigation by the federal authorities, according to published reports.
Rey admitted to the press that if Faccio accompanied Rivera Class it was because "he understood that he could offer the Department of Education a service".
Rivera Class is a known PDP contributor who offered services to the Education Department under the past administration and who allegedly paid a $750,000 bribe to the former Education chief.
U.S. Army Considers Moving Regional Command Out
January 22, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) - The U.S. military will announce soon whether it will move the headquarters for a major regional Army command out of Puerto Rico to the mainland United States, an Army official said Tuesday.
U.S. Army South, with a staff of about 1,250 including military and civilian personnel, oversees military operations in the Caribbean and Central and South America. The Army has been considering whether to relocate the command for several months, said Army South spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Budzyna.
"There's been a serious look on finding a new place for U.S. Army South to conduct its operations from," he said. "Any decision is going to be based on strategy."
A decision by defense officials in Washington could come within the next few months, Budzyna said.
The Army is considering the move due to the comparatively high cost of living on the island, Budzyna said. The proposal is part of a larger effort by the U.S. military to streamline operations and eliminate redundant functions.
The Army has identified two possible locations among several under consideration: Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort Sam Houston, near San Antonio, Texas.
The Army appears to be "leaning toward San Antonio," said Chuck Hunsaker, a military liaison for U.S. Rep. Mac Collins, who hopes to attract Army South to Georgia.
Budzyna, however, said there was no indication as to what the decision would be.
If Army South moves, more than 2,200 military and civilian employees would stay at Fort Buchanan, the facility in Guaynabo where Army South is based.
U.S. Army South, a component of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, was moved to Puerto Rico from Panama in 1999, before the handover of the Panama Canal to the Central American country's government on Dec. 31 that year.
Army South, one of 17 major Army commands, helps coordinate disaster relief and peacekeeping missions for the region and works with other nations' militaries to counter organized crime, terrorism, illegal migration and drug trafficking.