Four public employees charged in Mayagüez PUA fraud case

By John McPhaul

An investigation conducted by the Economic Crimes Division of the island Justice Department and the Special Investigations Bureau in support of the Labor and Human Resources Department concluded Monday, with the filing of 16 charges against four employees from the municipality of Mayagüez for alleged illegal appropriation and commission of fraud against the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

“Thousands of people lost their jobs or had their income reduced due to a pandemic that has caused pain and uncertainty for many. For someone to try to take advantage of a benefit that was created for those who really need it is an act of abuse and total unconsciousness,” Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli said at a press conference. “The Economic Crimes Division and the chief of prosecutors together with the team of prosecutors from the district attorney [office] have my support to go after anyone who defrauds a program aimed at those in need and those who are most vulnerable.”

The investigation, which lasted about a year, uncovered an alleged scheme originated by Steven Martell Olivencia, Omar Marrero Santiago, Jordán Matías Rivera and Isabel González Rodríguez, all Mayagüez municipal government employees, to illegally appropriate a total of $45,524 in PUA funds.

The Justice chief noted that the four employees allegedly “planned the scheme deliberately and knowing that they were committing fraud against the federal program.” To do so, they reported in their respective applications for unemployment assistance that they lost income as a result of their work in false occupations, claiming that they were their only sources of income.

However, all of them worked full time as employees of different programs and divisions of the Municipality of Mayagüez. At no time did their salary in the municipality decrease or was their employment interrupted.

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