Ex-SJ mayoral candidates blast decision not to appoint a special prosecutor in asphalt case
By John McPhaul
Three former candidates for mayor of San Juan, Manuel Natal Albelo, Rossana López León and Adrián González Costa, denounced on Tuesday the lack of rigor with which the Department of Justice handled the referral they presented jointly related to an alleged asphalt scheme involving New Progressive Party (NPP) candidates in San Juan and the company JR Asphalt.
Natal Albelo, who ran for San Juan mayor under the Citizen Victory Movement banner in 2020, said in a written statement that “the admissions of Miguel Romero and the other NPP legislators are sufficient cause to appoint an Independent Special Prosecutor and continue the investigation.”
“There is no controversy about these facts: Romero and his henchmen carried out asphalting activities in San Juan communities in the middle of the electoral campaign,” he said. “The asphalt, personnel and machinery used to carry out the activities were given away by a company whose owners pleaded guilty to bribing and giving illegal commissions to other mayors in exchange for receiving government contracts. The asphalt given away by the corrupt company was not reported by Romero and his NPP henchmen to Government Ethics, the Electoral Comptroller, or the secretariats of the legislative bodies to which they belonged. The corrupt company competed in bids before the Municipality of San Juan under the municipal administration of Romero and was awarded multiple contracts. While giving asphalt to Romero and his henchmen that was supposedly a ‘leftover’ from other projects, the company kept almost $40 million in government contracts. With these facts, in whose mind is it possible that there is not sufficient cause to continue the investigation? Only in that of a secretary of justice who acts as a lawyer for the NPP.”
Meanwhile, former senator and former Popular Democratic Party mayoral candidate Rossana López León stated that “what was determined by the Justice Department’s Division of Public Integrity and Comptroller’s Affairs shows that there is cause, but the officials determined that ‘it is not enough’ to believe that the defendants have engaged in criminal behavior.”
“All of Puerto Rico knows what kind of company JR Asphalt is and the serious corruption cases in which they are currently involved,” she said. “No one believes that JR Asphalt ‘gave away’ material, personnel and equipment to fill holes in San Juan in the middle of the 2020 political campaign. Justice, even in its statement, did not answer the allegations of illegal donations when the then-senator and now mayor himself accepted it with statements in several media. What is determined by the Department of Justice adds even more to the discredit of the agency before the country.”
As confirmed by the defendants themselves, Romero Lugo, Juan Oscar Morales, Jorge Navarro and Víctor Parés, while serving as public officials and appearing as candidates for elective positions, received asphalt, labor and machinery as a “gift” from JR Asphalt, whose owners pleaded guilty to several corruption crimes at the federal level. The material and services provided by the company were used in activities coordinated and promoted by the accused to pave multiple communities of San Juan during the most recent election cycle. The Department of Justice determined to recommend to the Special Independent Prosecutor Panel that it not appoint a special prosecutor against the accused, thereby terminating its investigation.
Former San Juan municipal legislator and former Puerto Rican Independence Party mayoral candidate Adrián González Costa said “the determination of the Department of Justice is a dangerous precedent.”
“According to the Secretary, because there was no proof that the asphalt was paid for with public funds and that there was no proof that the defendants had received an offer of bribes, he did not recommend the appointment of a [special independent prosecutor],” he said. “It is an admission that the asphalt was provided for free, but omitting to inquire about the origin of it, for the Secretary, if this asphalt was paid for with private funds, even if it was given to officials, it does not represent a problem. That is not acceptable because of the dangerous message it sends to the country about tolerance for shady acts. Once again, the already battered image of the Department of Justice is damaged. Our referral was intended to be a tool for the search for the truth and the government’s decision was to hide it. Given the apparent impossibility that these proceedings will be considered before a judge of facts in a court, the People will be the best Judge.”
The former candidates for mayor of San Juan, who together obtained over 60 percent of the votes in the most recent municipal elections, made public the extensive referral they presented to the Department of Justice on May 2, along with all the documentary evidence they collected, including publications of the accused on social networks, government contracts, recordings in which the accused admit the facts, among other evidence that the candidates say “confirms the need to continue the investigation.”