Ex-House speaker calls for investigation of Mayagüez fraud allegations

By John McPhaul

Former Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives José Aponte Hernández called on current House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez on Sunday to pass with urgency the resolution Aponte authored to investigate the management of funds and transactions carried out by the municipality of Mayagüez through the municipal corporation Mayagüez Economic Development Inc. (MEDI).

“I call on the speaker of the House so that in our next session, on Tuesday, April 6, the corresponding procedure will be put into effect to include in the calendar and approve the investigation resolution,” Aponte said. “We are talking that about $9 million of municipal funds were lost between 2016 and 2017 due to a fraudulent scheme. The municipality has to provide many explanations, it has to open its books and documentation. The mayor, José G. Rodríguez, must come to the Legislature to explain why, as president of MEDI, he gave the go-ahead to dubious transactions that ended up being fraudulent.”

House Resolution 344, filed by Aponte on Friday, orders the Committee for the Development and Oversight of the Western Region to investigate all transactions between the municipality and MEDI, as well as the people involved in them, and the accusations of fraud at the federal level against former municipal advisers and MEDI personnel.

Aponte expressed serious concerns about the properties that the municipality transferred to MEDI -- with an estimated total of about $300 million -- including schools, the Yágüez Theater and even the Litoral Park, an emblematic site in the city that was used for the 2010 Central American and Caribbean in Mayagüez, to the extent that those involved may be in danger of being prosecuted for gross negligence in the disbursement of public funds.

“These dubious transactions not only demonstrate total negligence when managing the resources of the people, but also place citizens at risk, since facilities such as the San Antonio Hospital, which provides medical services to the residents of Mayagüez and the western region, are about to be lost,” Aponte said.

“In recent days I have had a conversation with the elected representative José ‘Che’ Pérez, and I have advanced his intention to file legislation to investigate the finances of the municipality,” the veteran lawmaker said. “We support that effort. Our request is that it be investigated, since the municipality is looking to be the site of the Central American and Caribbean Games next year and this cloud of corruption and fraud that currently permeates, sustained by the mayor’s reluctance to speak about the issue and provide explanations to the people of Mayagüez and Puerto Rico, has to dissipate. The House of Representatives has to investigate.”

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