Governor has no comment on SIP panel declining to dismiss probe against her

By The Star Staff

The Special Independent Prosecutor (FEI by its Spanish initials) Panel on Monday declined Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced’s petition to dismiss an investigation against her after the governor missed a deadline for turning over evidence of possible bias against her on the part of an FEI Panel official.

The FEI Panel’s decision not only applies to Vázquez, but also to La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Antonio Pabón Batlle, former Family Socioeconomic Development (ADSEF by its Spanish acronym) Administrator Surima Quiñones Suárez, former ADSEF Deputy Administrator José Galarza Vargas, María Zayas Gierbolini and New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Evelyn Vázquez Nieves.

“On July 20, 2020, we issued a Resolution appointing two special independent prosecutors (FEI) to the task of thoroughly investigating the conduct attributed to the persons mentioned (in the preceding paragraph),” the resolution states. “In the preliminary investigation report sent by the Puerto Rico Department of Justice (DJPR), there are arguments backing criminal offenses. After a rigorous analysis, the members of the Panel concur with the legal evaluation of the DJPR.”

The investigation is related to the alleged mishandling of a warehouse facility in Ponce that contained emergency supplies for victims of earthquakes that severely damaged the southwestern region of the island in January. Special Prosecutor Leticia Pabón Ortiz and Deputy Prosecutor Miguel Colón Ortiz will be in charge of the investigation.

The governor, through her lawyer Edgar Pabón, requested the dismissal of the probe, arguing that one of the FEI Panel members who voted to investigate her, Rubén Vélez Torres, was a supporter of her opponent in the NPP primary, Pedro Pierluisi, and had participated in events with him. She also said Vélez Torres’ daughter is actively participating in Pierluisi’s campaign. Pabón also questioned the reasons why one of the FEI Panel members, Ygri Rivera, did not participate in the vote. The SIP asked Vázquez to submit the evidence she had against Vélez Torres, who denied the governor’s claims, by Monday.

According to the FEI Panel’s resolution, Rivera abstained from the vote because her daughter is up for a promotion and the decision is on the governor’s desk.

The document then criticizes the governor for defaming Vélez Torres’s reputation with “unfounded allegations” after she failed to file the evidence against him.

“We can’t let pass by that this type of allegation against a public servant of many years is very disrespectful,” the document says.

At a news conference aired through Facebook, the governor declined to comment on the investigation.

“I will not pay any attention to the FEI probe,” she said. “I will pay attention to issues that concern the people of Puerto Rico, such as the spread of COVID-19 through the airport and a possible storm. I am going to focus on what the people of Puerto Rico are truly interested in.”

The investigation comes two weeks before electoral primaries. Vázquez is running against Pierluisi, a former two-term island resident commissioner, to become the NPP’s gubernatorial candidate.

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