FBI agents arrested and charged Puerto Rico Sen. Abel Nazario-Quiñones on Nov. 6 in connection with an investigation into alleged theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, officials said.
A statement by the Department of Justice said several other people were arrested alongside Nazario-Quiñones, including Edwin Torres-Gutiérrez, special assistant to the mayor; Claribel Rodríguez-Canchani, director of human resources for the municipality; Humberto Pagán-Sánchez, Kelvin Ortiz-Vegarra, Ramón Martes-Negrón, Juan Rosario-Núñez, and Eric Rondón-Rodríguez.
The DOJ said the named individuals had all been irregular employees of the municipality while Nazario-Quiñones was Mayor and all face bribery charges for mishandling federal funds.
Nazario-Quiñones was first elected Mayor of Yauco, a municipality in Southwest Puerto Rico, in 2000, and maintained the role until December of 2016.
The statement alleges that during 2014 and 2016, some of the named defendants used more than $5,000 of municipality funds to pay other suspects to work on Nazario’s senatorial campaign.
Authorities said some suspects also helped the campaigns of other politicians, as Nazario-Quiñones needed their support to win the senatorial election and his bid to become president of the senate.
Elsewhere in the statement, it said that a routine audit of the municipality’s records in August 2016 by the Puerto Rico Comptroller’s Office found that there were irregular employees being paid by the Municipality of Yauco “who either never showed up for work, or showed up sporadically.”
It alleges that Nazario-Quiñones signed numerous irregular employment contracts for defendants Pagán-Sánchez, Ortiz-Vegarra, Martes-Negrón, Rosario-Núñez, and Rondón-Rodríguez, claiming there was a “need” for their service at the Mayor’s office.
However, it is alleged that these irregular employees only reported to the municipality once a week or once a month, and sporadically completed time and attendance records that were processed by the Human Resources department based on “false or no documentation to support the payment of wages.”
This is the second time Nazario-Quiñones has been arrested by authorities. In Sept. 2018, he was accused of defrauding his employees while serving as Yauco’s mayor.
Prosecutors alleged that, while he was mayor, municipal employees were required “to work two voluntary hours per day”—which the U.S. Department of Labor said was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Nazario-Quiñones agreed to pay nearly $590,000 in back wages to 177 employees, but authorities later learned that he told the payroll department to withhold future earnings of these employees for varying lengths of time.
Puerto Rico’s District Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow said of Nazario-Quiñones’ recent arrest: “Together with our law enforcement partners, our office will continue to aggressively pursue corrupt individuals in the government who defraud their constituents.
“This prosecution serves as a warning to other public officials involved in these types of schemes that they will be punished, and as a promise to taxpayers that such violations of the public trust will not be tolerated.”
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz called for Nazario-Quiñones’ resignation shortly after his arrest and filed an ethical complaint against him.
“It is unfortunate for him and his family, but even more so for the people of Puerto Rico who watch with anguish events that lacerate the trust in government institutions,” Rivera said in a statement.
However, Nazario told reporters that he would not step down from the role. He maintains that he is innocent.
“I am not leaving. This is my home,” he said in a statement.
If convicted, Nazario-Quiñones and the other defendants face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.