Another hard summer for NPP: Gov’t under fire as DOJ investigates corruption cases involving Vázquez
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
The New Progressive Party (NPP) is under fire again as Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced and senior officials are on the horns of a dilemma due to investigations of corruption.
The Special Independent Prosecutor Panel (SIPP) issued a resolution Tuesday to have six reports from the Puerto Rico Department of Justice (DOJ) delivered to the panel by this afternoon. The reports have been the subject of a brewing controversy after DOJ Interim Secretary Wandymar Burgos ordered an agent to take them back from the SIPP.
“The Resolution cites the entire tract of the incident in which Bureau of Special Investigations agent Agneris Valentín appeared before the Panel to deliver such files but received instructions from the DOJ to not proceed and [instead] return to the agency,” the SIPP said in a press release. “Members of the SIPP established that after the preliminary investigation and countersigning by the Secretary of Justice, the only legal course of action was to deliver them [the files] without further delay.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the governor defended herself against accusations that she dismissed former Justice Secretary Denisse Longo Quiñones because the governor and La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Antonio Pabón Batlle were under investigation for mismanagement of supplies from the Administration for Socioeconomic Development of the Family at a warehouse in Ponce.
Vázquez used a Tuesday press conference as a court to defend herself, stating that the reason she withdrew her trust from Longo Quiñones was because the ex-Justice secretary interfered in a federal investigation into a Medicaid fraud case in the Health Department (DS by its Spanish initials) that occurred from 2014 to 2019. The governor said Longo Quiñones could not interfere as she was prohibited since Sept. 17, 2019, from intervening in meetings that involved management discussions at the agency or any related matter because her mother, Concepción Quiñones de Longo, was the DS’s interim secretary.
“The [prohibition] will include excusing her from participating in meetings where discussions about said matters took place and during the official decisions. Therefore, she cannot advise, meet, give any opinion or intervene with all matters that have to do with DS,” Vázquez said as she read from a Government Ethics Office (OGE) document. “The OGE announced on October 1, 2019, that Longo Quiñones was inhibited from every matter of the DS in order to prevent an appearance of a conflict of interest. But on June 16, a federal inspector in charge of the Medicaid fraud case conversed with the ex-secretary and [current] DS Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano and attached a letter related to the investigation. The governor said Longo Quiñones replied a day after asking what they could do with the document and advised him not to negotiate without requiring federal prosecutors to prove their case.”
While reading an email thread, the governor said Longo Quiñones later told the federal official to coordinate a meeting with her secretary. She then revealed to the press that the fraud case involved Manpower, a recruitment company that allegedly used Medicaid funds to hire employees who were not under the healthcare program. Later, she said the former Justice secretary held a meeting with the DS secretary, the agency’s legal division director, and other officials and intervened three times in the federal investigation.
“As she has been a federal prosecutor, they do not hand their evidence to just anybody,” Vázquez said. “What was the intention of Denisse Longo Quiñones in knowing what the evidence was against the DS and which officials at the moment were involved as her mother was the deputy secretary?”
Nonetheless, the governor said, she felt convinced she made the right decision in asking for the Justice chief’s resignation because, she said, Longo Quiñones kept stepping into the federal investigation even when Pabón Batlle told her not to abide by the letter.
Governor claims she has nothing to fear on file reports In spite of the accusations, Vázquez told designated Justice Secretary Wandymar Burgos that she had to send all reports that she retrieved on Monday from SIPP today. She considered that the procedure was done “on the run and in the dark of the night,” as she said such reports were prepared rapidly on Friday.
“I have nothing to fear. Although everyone is aware of the SIPP’s history, and Puerto Ricans have witnessed what they are capable of doing, I have no doubt or fear that the reports are handed today to SIPP, mine and every other official involved,” she said. “If the alleged investigation has merit and goes by the law, I welcome it and will face it as I have faced similar situations. This attitude, which is clearly vengeful and rigged, in the midst of a primary contest, we will face it.”
Longo Quiñones: ‘This is a subterfuge to attack the reports’ credibility’ Meanwhile, Longo Quiñones said in a radio interview for WKAQ 580 AM that after listening to the governor’s press conference, she deemed her allegations to be “surprising.” She added that it was her first time she heard the reasons she was asked to resign.
“I am calm after listening to the allegations against me. This is a subterfuge to attack the reports’ credibility,” she said. “I always strove for integrity on every matter I had to address; I am serious with my allegations against other people. I am surprised about all these allegations against me.”
After Vázquez accused the former Justice secretary of handing over the reports on a Friday evening as an “on the run” move, Longo Quiñones said those reports come from investigations that have been resolved. Nonetheless, she added, in order to have a smoother transition, there was one report that was left unsigned as its investigation is still ongoing.
“I did not know who was going to succeed me,” she said. “The Public Integrity division held meetings with other prosecutors for weeks to resolve investigations. We determined that only one report from the division was not going to be signed as attorneys are wrapping up the investigation.”
“To insinuate that on Friday afternoon we created six reports -- one of which has 74 pages, which is the one that has the governor and the chief of staff involved, [and] another report has 106 pages, the other has 18 pages, the next one has 14 pages, another one has 18 pages -- is to not be truthful, is to disrespect the seriousness with which both the prosecutors and I managed these investigations, submitted their recommendations and employed their process,” Longo Quiñones said. “The governor knows these prosecutors. They deserve respect.”
While it may be true that Vázquez was not aware that she was under investigation, Longo Quiñones replied that the DOJ does not announce anyone’s involvement until the agency holds enough proof to develop a report.
“We [the DOJ] do not notify our objects of an investigation until we submit [a report] to the SIPP,” she said.