Ex-Cataño mayor pleads guilty to federal corruption charges
Governor: Delgado Montalvo ‘failed his people’
By John McPhaul
In comments on Thursday regarding the guilty plea entered by the former mayor of Cataño, Félix Delgado Montalvo, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said “Today it is confirmed that the former mayor of Cataño Félix ‘Cano’ Delgado failed his people.”
The governor’s comment came at the same time that a contractor who allegedly bribed Delgado was arrested by federal authorities.
“There is no justification for the criminal acts that are the subject of the former mayor’s guilty plea,” the governor, who is on a trade mission in the Dominican Republic, said in a written statement. “This type of case not only affects the well being of Cataño residents, but also tarnishes the good name of so many elected officials who serve Puerto Rico well. For me, what is key is that everyone who comes to serve in the government, whether state or municipal, does so in an uncompromised and honest way. Serving the people is a privilege and comes with great responsibility. In my administration there is no tolerance nor will there be room for conduct that does not measure up to what the people expect of us.”
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón also condemned the acts of corruption.
“Public service has to be synonymous with honesty; whoever uses it to benefit personally has to be repudiated,” González Colón said. “There is no place for people who come to serve themselves, instead of serving our people, the people we ask for the trust to represent them.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Delgado Montalvo had not yet been processed for the crime of conspiracy to accept bribes in exchange for awarding contracts, said Joseph González, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Juan Field Office.
“He will be processed in the next few days by the marshals and our agents, FBI agents, are not going to go out to arrest him,” González said in response to questions from the press. “[He] is going to turn himself in.”
Delgado Montalvo pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery with federal funds and kickbacks, according to an agreement that he signed with the federal prosecutor’s office in the investigation of contracts awarded to companies Waste Collection and JR Asphalt.
The agreement was unsealed by the prosecutor’s office earlier Thursday.
Delgado Montalvo resigned as mayor of Cataño on Tuesday, when the federal prosecutor’s office filed the complaint.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico W. Stephen Muldrow said Delgado Montalvo waived his right to be indicted by a grand jury and agreed to a plea deal for conspiracy to commit bribery and receive kickbacks. As part of the settlement, more than $100,000 and four Rolex watches, including two Rolex Datejust, a Rolex Submariner, and a Rolex Pepsi, and a Vacheron Constantin, will be seized, estimated at $105,000.
As part of the agreement, the former Cataño mayor faces a five-year prison sentence, down from the 21 years he would have faced without a deal. His sentencing hearing will be on March 8, 2022.
Delgado Montalvo acknowledged that he illegally enriched himself by accepting cash payments and gifts from the contractor Mario Villegas Vargas, a partner in JR Asphalt, who benefited from $9.9 million in contracts that were paid in part with federal funds.
Villegas Vargas was arrested in the morning by the FBI. The charges against him are: conspiracy, bribery with funds from a federal program and using interstate commerce facilities to carry out criminal activity.
“The corrupt scheme agreed between the former mayor and the accused was not very complicated,” Muldrow said. “Villegas and Delgado met in various places in the municipality of Cataño to deliver bribes in the form of cash or watches to the former mayor. At one point, during the commission of that scheme, Villegas told Delgado to go out of his way to hide what was happening. The indictment accounts for three occasions in which Villegas gave Delgado cash as part of the kickbacks. $70,000 on Dec. 14, 2020, $7,840 on Feb. 2, 2021, and $17,000 in cash on June 8, 2021. That money has been confiscated by the FBI.”
Meanwhile, a pair of municipalities announced Thursday that they were cancelling contracts with the Waste Collection and JR Asphalt companies.
Caguas Mayor William Mranda Torres said through his press office that he had cancelled a $3 million contract with JR Asphalt.
Vega Alta Mayor María Vega Pagán said she had cancelled contracts with both companies.
Muldrow and González put out a call Thursday to officials and contractors of the island government to report corrupt practices.
“I repeat, to any person who has participated or is participating in any criminal conduct, including public corruption, I urge you to contact us,” Muldrow said at a press conference about the arrest of Villegas Vargas.
“The value of your cooperation and any potential benefits to you is much greater the earlier you do so,” he added.
Muldrow noted that there are four stages in investigative processes in which a person who can ultimately be charged can provide cooperation. The first is when the federal government is not yet aware of the criminal conduct. The second is when the agents find out and go to visit. The third is when the subject is formally accused and the fourth is when the subject is formally convicted.
“When they knock on your door, answer them and tell them the truth,” Muldrow said.