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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Attorney vows to appeal ex-Rep. Charbonier’s conviction

Former Rep. María Milagros Charbonier Laureano

By The Star Staff

Attorney Francisco Rebollo, the legal representative of former New Progressive Party Rep. María Milagros “Tata” Charbonier Laureano, said late last week that he will appeal his client’s eight-year federal prison sentence for her involvement in a public corruption scheme.

Rebollo expressed disagreement with the court’s ruling, which he called “balanced.”

“Although we do not agree with the sentence […] we have to recognize that it is a balanced judgment,” the lawyer said in a written statement. “The court had a broad command of the controversies and although it does not have my agreement, it has my respect.”

Federal Judge Silvia Carreño Coll accepted the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to impose a sentence of eight years in prison, in addition to 120 hours of community service and three years of supervised release. Charbonier Laureano was found guilty of bribery, receiving kickbacks, fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

Rebollo also criticized the prosecutor’s office’s original request for a sentence of 15 years in prison.

“That was always a request that wasn’t serious. I mean, prosecutors, I don’t know if they realize it, but they lose credibility when they take positions like that,” he said. “I mean, here in this district there have been previous cases similar to this; the sentence had never exceeded 63 months and to come here to ask for 180 months was not a serious request, in my view of things.”

The lawyer reiterated Charbonier Laureano’s innocence and highlighted the lack of conclusive evidence.

“Every time an innocent person like Charbonier is convicted of a crime, and like today, sentenced to lose her freedom, well, at least for this public servant it is a great injustice and that is what has happened here,” Rebollo said.

Charbonier Laureano was found guilty on 12 counts, while her husband, Orlando Montes Rivera, was found guilty on 11 counts and sentenced to four years and nine months in federal prison.

The corruption scheme included inflating the salary of Frances Acevedo Ceballos, the former lawmaker’s receptionist-secretary, to $8,000 per month, of which Acevedo Ceballos returned between $1,000 and $1,500 biweekly to Charbonier’s family. The scheme allowed Charbonier Laureano to obtain around $100,000 between September 2017 and the summer of 2020.

Rebollo also announced that they will file a bond motion on appeal.

“Sure, we certainly have a dedicated bond motion on appeal that includes not all but the vast majority of those arguments,” he said. “The court today [Friday] ordered the government that it has two weeks to respond to it and will issue its decision in due course.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, represented by María Montañez Concepción, Kathryn E. Fifield and Jonathan E. Jacobson, presented a considerable amount of evidence, including recordings of phone conversations, bank records, and testimony from FBI agents. Acevedo Ceballos, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to three years and one month in prison.

Rebollo argued that the real culprit of the scheme was a government informant, who spent significant amounts of money without proper justification.

“The people of Puerto Rico cannot have confidence in this verdict, for that reason among others, but particularly for that reason,” he said.

The appeal will be taken to the First Circuit in Boston, where Charbonier Laureano’s legal team hopes to reverse the sentence.

The sentencing of Charbonier Laureano and her husband came after a 10-day trial that ended on Jan 12 of this year.

The corruption scheme was corroborated by testimonies from Sheila Mangual and Roxana Sifre, who confirmed the existence of illegal commissions. Mangual, the former director of Charbonier Laureano’s legislative office, testified that she gave money to the former representative, while Sifre, a former employee of Charbonier and the ex-wife of convicted former Cataño mayor Félix Delgado Montalvo, also testified about the scheme.

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