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Rodriguez, NPP, PIP Filed Anti-Corruption Bills

Santini Announces 1st Housing Project

NPP Vows To Fight Corruption

Gil To Continue

PesqueraTo Return Illegal Funds

Serrano Thanks Bush

Judge Confiscates PIP Salaries

More Charges Against Ex-Vega Alta Mayor

Governor Signs Anti-Corruption Executive Order

NPP, PIP Filed Anti-Corruption Bills That Were Ignored

January 29, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Kenneth McClintock and Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Fernando Martin took credit separately Tuesday for dozens of bills aimed at fighting government corruption that were never approved by the majority.

Martin said his party was the first to propose in 1997 that electoral campaigns be financed with public funds, and that government contractors be banned from donating money to political parties.

According to the PIP senator, these projects were ignored by the past NPP administration, which was the legislative body's majority at the time.

For their part, the NPP delegation claimed to have filed in 2000 at least 21 anti-corruption bills, of which only three have been approved.

NPP Senate Minority Leader McClintock said the Popular Democratic Party delegation should explain why they keep these bills at a standstill. The bills include those that propose the online disclosure of the travel expenses of public officials, as well as the information regarding the celebration and the results of public bidding processes.

Santini Announces His First Housing Project

January 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - After a year in office, San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini announced Monday his first housing project to be developed in the Villa Palmeras sector of Santurce.

Santini presided over the ceremony during which the first stone of the Los Portales I project was placed at the construction site. The housing project will consist of 18 units with three rooms, bathroom and a subsidy of $50,000 per unit, according to a prepared statement.

Santini justified the delay in the development of residential projects by saying that he had to overcome a series of obstacles inherited from the past administration.

NPP House Delegation Vows For Legislation To Fight Corruption

By Proviana Colon Diaz

January 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PRWOW News Service. All rights reserved.

New Progressive Party delegation at the House of Representatives vowed on Monday to file legislation against corruption, including amendments to the campaign financing law.

The delegation, however, agreed that all legislation aimed at reforming the campaign financing law should be approved, before being signed into law, by a special independent committee with representation of all political parties.

In addition, the legislators agreed to propose amendments for the composition of the bidding boards within the government agencies to include representatives from the civil society and all political parties, thus "guaranteeing" a non-political position when granting the bids.

NPP Minority Leader Rep. Anibal Vega Borges also agreed to file anew the bill that creates the inspector general post.

The announcement was made on Monday following a delegation meeting with former Senate President Charlie Rodriguez, who on three different occasions filed the bill to create the office for the inspector general, but each time received a veto by former Gov. Pedro Rossello.

Rodriguez, who has lauded his performance as president for filing and approving anti corruption laws, was asked why in the practice, members of his political party had ignored such law and were now facing charges of bribery and extortion.

The former Senate president answered that perhaps it was due to a lack of will.

"Their could be the best legislation but if there is not a true will, we lose," Rodriguez said.

Such lack of will is according to Rodriguez, already noticeable in Gov. Sila Calderon's administration as she avidly denounces corruption within the NPP and files legislation to prevent it but members of her cabinet are already engaging in similar practices.

Rodriguez made his statements in regards to the acknowledgment of Education Secretary Cesar Rey meeting with school contractor Jesus Rivera Class, president and owner of Quality Educational Services through the alleged intervention of Calderon former campaign manager Irving Faccio.

Rivera Class along with former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo and 15 other people were indicted on Wednesday for their alleged participation in a bribery, extortion scheme that lead to kickbacks of up to $4.3 million, $1 million of which went to the NPP.

In order to avoid such fraud schemes for the payment of a political campaign Rodriguez suggested that three new amendments to the campaign finance reform, that intends the full payment of the campaign with public funds would be necessary to have mayors and legislators covered by the fund, to prohibit the government from announcing itself on the press and to have the advertising board at the State Elections Committee working all the time and not only on the year prior to the general elections.

Guillermo Gil To Continue As Acting U.S. District Attorney

January 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Acting U.S. District Attorney Guillermo Gil will remain in his post for the time being, after more than a year has past since the change of administration in the United States.

Sources close to the U.S. District Attorney's Office said in published reports that the situation is due to the beginning of the U.S. Congress's session this year.

This means Gil's successor should have been appointed by President George W. Bush last Tuesday at the latest, to immediately occupy Gil's position without waiting for the confirmation of the U.S. Senate.

With the session already in process, it is irrelevant whether or not the president appoints a successor immediately because he or she wouldn't be able to occupy the post until the Senate confirms the nomination.

NPP President To Return Illegal Money

January 27, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - New Progressive Party (NPP) Carlos Pesquera promised on Sunday to return the money that may have illegally benefited that political party during the past 10 years, but demanded the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) to do the same.

To achieve this, Pesquera suggested the creation of a committee comprised of five people of undisputable reputation to examine all transactions at the NPP and the PDP during that period of time.

"The New Progressive Party commits itself to restoring to the pertaining entities the moneys that the committee determines benefited our party illegally," said the party president during a press conference following an NPP meeting regarding the case of former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo.

Some 17 people, including Fajardo, were accused of participating in a fraud scheme to misappropriate $4.3 million in federal and local funds. It is believed that more than a million dollars ended up in the NPP coffers.

"If there is nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear. The people demands and deserves an answer to their questions once and for all," Pesquera said after asking that PDP Gov. Sila Calderon allow the auditing of her party's finances as well.

Serrano Thanks Bush For Vow To End Navy Exercises

January 25, 2002
Copyright © 2002 EFE News Service. All rights reserved.

© 2002 Distributed via COMTEX News

San Juan - The mayor of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques , Damaso Serrano, on Thursday met with U.S. President George W. Bush and thanked him for his promise to end U.S. Navy bombing maneuvers on the island before May 2003.

The meeting took place during a conference of U.S. mayors at the White House on Thursday.

Serrano was released from jail recently after serving four months for interfering with Navy bombing practice on the island, located near Puerto Rico .

The Navy has held bombing exercises on Vieques for 60 years. Amphibious landings, similar to those performed during World War II, have also been performed, but they have been called obsolete by some retired Navy officers.

Hundreds of people have spent time in jail for engaging in civil disobedience on Vieques and trespassing on Navy property on the island.

Serrano also gave a letter addressed to Bush to U.S. Housing Secretary Mel Martinez, thanking the president for backing the withdrawal of the Navy from the island.

Federal Judge Confiscates Salaries Of PIP Leaders

By Proviana Colon Diaz

January 25, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PRWOW News Service. All rights reserved.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Hector Lafitte surprised everyone in court Friday when instead of imposing jail time for failing to pay a fine imposed by the court, he ordered the salaries of Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Fernando Martin and PIP General Secretary Vance Thomas be garnished until payment is completed.

Therefore, the court will issue letters to the Senate requesting that $1,250 be kept from Martin's salary and $875 be garnished from Thomas' salary at the State Elections Commission.

Before making his ruling, Lafitte recognized the defendants' right to express their political beliefs. However, he said there is a difference between one's belief and one's conduct and added that they were being sentenced for their conduct and not their beliefs.

Lafitte added that contrary to their defense of not recognizing the jurisdiction of the federal court, his ruling "vindicates the authority of the court."

"The gates of this court are what separate order from anarchy," Lafitte said.

Martin and Thomas, however, saw the ruling as a vindication of their beliefs.

"I was astonished to hear from Lafitte's mouth the recognition of our position of not recognizing the jurisdiction of the court, and this means a great triumph for the liberties of all Puerto Ricans," Martin said.

The senator added that to sentence them to jail would have been a "scandal" for the federal court.

Thomas, for his part, said the "victory" was for all and thanked all those, who like them, have engaged in civil disobedience in Vieques.

The duo was sentenced for trespassing federal jurisdiction in Vieques on July 2000. Being that the crime is a misdemeanor, Lafitte imposed a fine of $1,000 to Martin and $750 to Thomas.

They failed to pay it, arguing that they do not recognize the jurisdiction of the court. The law states a 10% increase of the fine for being delinquent in the payment and an additional 15% for acting in default. With that increase, the amount that Martin will have to repay is $1,250, and Thomas is $850.

Upon leaving the courthouse, Martin said the money could have been garnished without having them brought to court and did not order his attorney to make any objection to the ruling because if "we don't recognize the court's jurisdiction for one thing, we don't recognize it for the other."

Meanwhile, outside the federal court, hundreds of PIP activists gathered, including PIP President Ruben Berrios, who has been out of the public spotlight for quite sometime.

Denying rumors that he was terminally ill, Berrios said he was fully committed to his duties as a law professor and concentrating his efforts in defining the island's status.

Like Martin and Thomas, Berrios agreed that Lafitte's ruling was a victory for the fight against the U.S. Navy's presence in Vieques.

"Both the Navy and the court pretended to have the movement for peace in Vieques on its knees by pretending to impose a one-year prison sentence, but who fell down on its knees was the court," Berrios said.

Also outside the federal court building and facing the PIP demonstration was a total of eight pro-Navy demonstrators, members of the Statehood Reborn organization, who yelled insults at the pro-independence followers.

Organization spokesman Edgar Berrios said he was satisfied with Lafitte's ruling by not sentencing the duo to jail because that was "precisely what they wanted, to make a show."

More Charges Filed Against Former Vega Alta Mayor

By Proviana Colon Diaz

January 25, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PRWOW News Service. All rights reserved.

Three more charges were filed Friday against former Vega Alta Mayor Juan Cruzado Laureano for alleged bribery and embezzlement of funds.

In a written statement issued Friday, Acting U.S. District Attorney Guillermo Gil Bonar said the mayor now faces 14 charges of embezzlement of public funds, extortion, bribery, and obstruction of justice

Last October, the first-term mayor was accused of appropriating $28,945 between March and October from funds of the Vega Alta Diagnostic and Treatment Center through extortion of the owners of a Vega Alta crystal shop and Sidney Travel and Tours.

Friday's accusations include three charges of interference with commerce by extortion induced by economic fear and under color of official right.

According to the superseding indictment between June and October 2001, Cruzado Laureano also "unlawfully" obtained money from the owner of Premier Electrical and General Contactors Inc and Mundo Construction Inc.

The indictment did not state how much money was obtained from the three new corporations.

The document stated that the mayor asked these people for money and then deposited it in a personal account in Banco Popular through his company Onaden Inc. under the name of Las Colinas Dental Office.

Federal authorities initiated the investigation after receiving information about irregularities in the Vega Alta municipality related to a trip to New York for the Puerto Rican Parade, Gil Bonar said.

Cruzado Laureano quit his post immediately after the indictment was filed against him.

For matters related to the New York Puerto Rican Day Parade, Cruzado's ex-wife Sen. Maribel Rodriguez faces an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, and the Justice Department requested a Special Independent Prosecutor investigate the matter.

Governor Signs Anti-Corruption Executive Order

By Proviana Colon Diaz

January 25, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PRWOW News Service. All rights reserved.

Gov. Sila Calderon signed Thursday an executive order instructing all heads of agencies and executive directors of corporations not to accept any efforts from anyone in her political campaign aimed at benefiting a third party.

Calderon issued the executive order in response to the action made by her former campaign manager, Irving Faccio, when he met with Education Secretary Cesar Rey, speaking in favor of businessman Jesus Emilio Rivera.

Rivera is one of the 17 people indicted Wednesday in federal court in relation to a money laundering extortion scheme at the Education Department that led to kickbacks of $4.3 million, of which $1 million went to the New Progressive Party (NPP).

Calderon said once the information surfaced regarding Faccio's meeting with Rey and Rivera, she called him, talked to him, and accepted his explanation.

She also declined to give any further details regarding the conversation she had, saying her reaction to that action and her conversation is the filing of the executive order Thursday.

"Beyond what he said, my response is stated in this executive order," Calderon said.

Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez has already ordered an investigation into Faccio's actions in response to a petition made by former NPP Rep. Carlos Diaz, who requested an investigation based on the allegations that Faccio's meeting with the Education secretary could be interpreted as "improper influence," which constitutes a criminal act.

Calderon also ordered La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda to conduct an investigation and an evaluation into any possible action from anyone that might seem improper.

When asked, however, if she would order an investigation into the contracts granted to all those working in her campaign, she was quick to point out that she was taking action to prevent corruption but that did not mean that any acts of corruption had already taken place.

"The contracts in my administration have been granted in a strict manner following strict guidelines for which all agencies have to respond," Calderon said.

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