Calderon Gets A Federal Boost

by John Marino

March 29, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. JOHN MARINOGov. Calderon's fight against corruption is looking stronger than ever this week, with a federal appeals court giving its blessing to her Blue Ribbon Commission and federal prosecutors taking their public corruption investigation under former Gov. Pedro Rosselló inside the gates of La Fortaleza.

Not only did the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals reverse a ruling hampering the Blue Ribbon Commission's investigative methods, it also ordered US District Judge José Fusté to dismiss the lawsuit brought against the Commission and Gov. Calderón, which prompted him to rule that the Commission trampled on the due process rights of two of its targets: former Natural and Environmental Resources Secretary Daniel Pagán and former Office of Management and Budget Director Jorge Aponte.

The Appeals Court, in a decision written by Judge Juan Torrellua, known for his pro-statehood leanings, ruled that because the Commission had no prosecutorial functions, it could not infringe on such rights - an argument the administration made all along.

Meanwhile, the arrest on the new federal indictment of Maria de los Angeles Rivera, the former special aide of Gov. Pedro Rosselló, has taken the spotlight of off charges the Popular Democratic Party might have broken some election laws.

Rivera is accused of using her position at La Fortaleza to grant meetings with Cabinet chiefs to government contractors in exchange for pay-offs. She is accused of collecting some $125,000 during Rosselló's second term in office.

Federal prosecutors made a point to say there was no evidence that Rosselló knew anything about the pay-offs and that they were for personal benefit, not that of the New Progressive Party.

But by indicting an individual so close to the former governor, the heat on Rosselló has definitely been turned up.

For one thing he might actually have to speak out on the matter - something he has not done since the arrest of former Education chief and NPP stalwart Victor Fajardo. That's because Rivera is under contract to run his official office, a right granted to all former governors, who get a $40,000 annual budget to run the offices.

Now that she has been indicted, Rosselló was called upon to cancel her contract to administrate the office, which is apparently a "cyber-office," existing only in cyberspace. But efforts to track down any trace of Rosselló 's office have been fruitless for local journalists. Most of the costs of running the office -- $36,000 -- have gone to pay Rivera's salary.

Rosselló continues to be mum, declining all attempts at interviews, but New Progressive Party leaders have been increasing their calls for Rosselló to talk to the Puerto Rican people about corruption under his helm.

The latest federal indictment also has spurred speculation that more are surely to come, as only one of three contractors who allegedly made pay-offs to Rivera has been indicted, giving the impression that the feds are leaning on her to cooperate.

All this bad news for the NPP has been good news for Calderón. Charges of election law violations were also thrown at San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini , who has been digging through the books during Calderón's stint as mayor and making allegations of poor financial management and possible legal violations.

Santini was also forced to cancel a $280,000 contract with DMS, Inc., a health services firm with which Rivera was also involved.

The Santini attack on Calderón is being seen by many as the San Juan mayor making his move to challenge Carlos Pesquera for leadership of the NPP. In making the allegations against Calderón, Santini has also shown that he is in a good spot to dig up dirt on Calderón.

Santini denies the talk, but sources within the NPP said one party faction is pushing an alternative ticket to Pesquera that includes Santini as gubernatorial candidate, former Senate President Charlie Rodríguez as resident commissioner and soon to be NPP member Jorge De Castro Font as San Juan mayoral candidate.

But that is not to say that the PDP is not without its internal rifts.

Former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón made a statement last week calling on government leaders to be truthful with the public concerning electoral law and corruption allegations.

Calderón took the statement as a direct attack on her. The savvy Hernández Colón was able to deny it was meant for her, but it was clear evidence that he is still wounded by her rebuff of the aspirations of his son, José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral, to the resident commissioner's post in the last election.

Political infighting in Puerto Rico's parties will go on regardless of how good or bad a party's prospects looks in the immediate future.

But Puerto Ricans increasingly believe that federal authorities are above such partisanship, which is why it was such a good week for Calderón.

John Marino, City Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

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