San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP News)–Two former Puerto Rico leaders — Julia Keleher, who was the secretary of the island’s department of education before stepping down in April, and Ángela Ávila-Marrero, who led Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration until last month — were arrested by FBI agents on Wednesday.
At a press conference in San Juan, U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez elaborated.
“Both Keleher and Ávila-Marrero took advantage of their privileged positions as agency chiefs. They defrauded the U.S. and Puerto Rican governments,” Rodríguez said.
Federal authorities also arrested and charged Glenda Ponce-Mendoza and Mayra Ponce-Mendoza, who are sisters who worked as education consultants; Fernando Scherrer Caillet, an executive at the auditing firm BDO; and consultant Alberto Velázquez Piñol. The 32-count indictment accuses the defendants of charges including wire fraud, theft and money laundering.
The charges related to steering lucrative government contracts to business friends come at a politically sensitive time for the island’s government, which has been trying to project a polished and competent image of themselves to Congress as island leadership expect to receive billions of dollars in recovery aid to help rebuild after Hurricane Maria.
Félix Córdova, a political analyst who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico, said the corruption scandal reveals a troubling reality on the island.
Córdova said many island residents were not entirely surprised by the charges.