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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

2 defendants in Vázquez Garced corruption case given a week to add objections to review of privilege

Former Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced

By The Star Staff

Judge Raúl Arias Marxuach, who is overseeing the corruption case against former Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, gave the other two defendants in the case, banker Julio Herrera Velutini and Mark Rossini, until Dec. 13 to file additional arguments objecting to the prosecution’s review of privileged materials.

The accused are trying to stop federal prosecutors from using a “filter team” to review attorney-client and work-product privileged electronic data obtained through search warrants. The judge held in abeyance a motion for return of property requested by Herrera Velutini and Rossini but ordered prosecutors to file a motion by Nov. 29 stating the filter team protocol currently in place and whether any of the filter team’s members are employed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico.

On Nov. 29, prosecutors argued federal courts have widely accepted the use of a government filter team as an appropriate means of balancing the interests of protecting privileged communications and effective grand jury investigations.

“The United States, on its own accord, instituted a filter review protocol in this matter. Yet Defendants challenge the use of a filter team, per se, asking the Court instead to supervise privilege determinations that, in all likelihood, have been addressed by the filter review process or can be resolved between the parties,” said Corey R. Amundson, chief of the Public Integrity Section in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). “They further ask for evidence obtained through search warrants approved by a federal judge in this District to be returned to them, but they have not identified a single constitutional harm or threat to their ability to receive a fair trial to warrant such an extraordinary and unprecedented remedy.”

Herrera Velutini and Rossini requested leave to file a reply addressing “new and highly concerning matters raised in the Government’s response.”

Among other matters, they said they wanted to address the government’s erroneous argument that a defendant cannot request post-indictment the return of attorney-client and work-product privileged materials seized improperly and illegally, the government’s erroneous argument that the only process for review of the government’s mishandling of these privileged materials is a motion to suppress, and what they said was the government’s self-serving and erroneous argument that the government’s constitutional violations of defendants’ rights resulted in no harm despite the investigative team’s admitted and willful exposure to privileged materials.

They also said they wanted to address the government’s “artful and disingenuous omission of past, ongoing, and prospective criminal investigations involving defendants for which the illegally seized privileged materials may be used; the Government’s misguided attempt to paint the emergency motion as a ‘per se’ challenge to filter teams when in fact, the emergency motion states that the filter review in this case has been deficient from the outset and has failed to protect privileged materials; the failure to provide full disclosures of how the privileged materials have been handled by the investigative and prosecution team; the filing of the Protocol ex parte; the fact that the filter review is being led by a supervisor, attorneys and paralegals of the public integrity section, the same section of the DOJ that is prosecuting the case and the need for an evidentiary hearing especially in light of the Government’s highly concerning revelation that it did seize privileged material or has been aware of privileged information since November 2020, but failed to implement a filter team until March 2022.

Federal authorities arrested Vázquez Garced and the other two in August and charged them with bribery related to the financing of her 2020 electoral campaign.

According to the indictment, beginning in 2019, Herrera Velutini’s bank was the subject of an examination by Puerto Rico’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions (OCIF), a regulatory agency that oversees financial institutions operating in Puerto Rico. Through intermediaries, Herrera Velutini and Rossini allegedly promised to provide funding to support Vázquez Garced’s 2020 gubernatorial election campaign in exchange for Vázquez Garced firing former OCIF Commissioner George Richard Joyner and appointing a new commissioner of Herrera Velutini’s choosing, who was Víctor Rodríguez Bonilla, who worked at Bancredito.

The indictment further alleges that following Vázquez Garced’s primary election loss in August 2020, Herrera Velutini sought to bribe her successor, identified as Public Official A, presumably current Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, by offering funding in support of Public Official A’s campaign in exchange for Public Official A ending OCIF’s audit of Herrera Velutini’s bank on terms favorable to Herrera Velutini.

If convicted on all counts, the defendants each face a maximum total penalty of 20 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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