Andrew Scurria , Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2019
U.S. authorities indicted the former heads of Puerto Rico’s education department and health-insurance agency under Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, alleging they steered government contracts to favored businesses.
An indictment unsealed Tuesday in Puerto Rico federal court accused Julia Keleher, former education secretary, and Angela Avila-Marrero, former executive director of the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration, of using their positions “to benefit and enrich themselves through fraud and the theft of government funds.” Four others were charged, including the managing director of accounting firm BDO Puerto Rico PSC.
Prosecutors said public officials engaged in a range of corrupt practices around the agencies, alleging that contractors hired consultants who had “government influence” and paid them commissions through secret side deals for the business they secured.
Public officials leaked private government information, sometimes through personal email accounts or the encrypted-messaging app Telegram, according to the indictment.
The indictment is likely to feed concerns within the Trump administration and Congress about Puerto Rico’s capacity to handle billions of dollars in disaster relief money earmarked for repairing damage from the devastating 2017 hurricane season. Federal agencies are tightly controlling Puerto Rico’s access to taxpayer dollars, citing concerns about whether local authorities have put in place the proper safeguards to prevent waste and mismanagement. Meanwhile, the territory is navigating the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
President Trump has criticized Puerto Rico’s leaders as inept and sought to curb its access to relief funds, insisting it hasn’t properly spent the money already received.
The indictment comes weeks after former Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado unexpectedly disclosed a federal probe into his department and said he had been pressured by an “institutional mafia.” Mr. Maldonado was swiftly fired by the governor, who said he was never informed by his subordinate about the alleged improprieties.