Puerto Rico governor indicted on 5 new charges
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A U.S. federal grand jury handed down a new indictment against Puerto Rico Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila Tuesday, charging him with four counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with alleged campaign finance violations.
It accused Acevedo and others in his campaign of receiving some US$250,000 in illegal funds from a local businessman, whom Acevedo later helped as governor without disclosing the financial relationship. A senior aide and former campaign director were also charged.
The indictment also contends that a media company used by Acevedo’s campaign created about US$250,000 in fake invoices, stating it had provided services when it had done no work for the businessman or his company. The money was allegedly used to pay off campaign debts.
Acevedo, who is running for re-election in November, was previously indicted in March on 19 other counts including conspiracy to violate federal campaign laws and defraud the Internal Revenue Service, as well as giving false testimony to the FBI.
He faces 60 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
On Tuesday, he repeated previous denials of guilt and blamed the accusations on political persecution.
“Like I have said from the beginning, I have never committed an illegal act,” he said in a statement.
His Washington-based attorney, Thomas Green, accused federal authorities of engaging in “heavy-handed, unfair tactics.”
Acevedo and a dozen associates are alleged to have illegally raised money to pay off more than US$500,000 in campaign debts stemming from his term as Puerto Rico’s nonvoting delegate to Congress from 2000 to 2004.
Acevedo is the first Puerto Rican governor to face federal charges since the island became a semiautonomous U.S. commonwealth in 1952. He is expected to stand trial in February.
The governor is in the middle of a tight race for re-election against Luis Fortuno, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting congressional delegate and a member of the island’s pro-statehood party. Acevedo favors maintaining the island’s semiautonomous status.