Justice chief refers Arecibo mayor’s case to SIP office
By The Star Staff
Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández asked the Office of the Special Independent Prosecutor (OPFEI by its Spanish initials) on Monday to appoint a prosecutor to investigate Arecibo Mayor Carlos Ramírez Irizarry for alleged embezzlement of public funds and breach of duty.
After an investigation by the agency’s Division of Public Integrity and Comptroller Affairs Office (DIPAC) along with the Special Investigations Bureau (NIE), Emmanuelli Hernández concluded that there is sufficient cause to believe that the mayor may have committed the crimes of embezzlement of public funds and breach of duty, as well as violations to Article 4.2(b) of Law No. 1-2012, known as the Charter Law of the Office of Government Ethics, for awarding contracts and giving jobs to people who have been convicted of crimes, including former Sen. Maritere González López and Dr. Edgar Cancel Zapata.
DIPAC’s preliminary investigation revealed that Cancel Zapata, at the time of being appointed to the irregular position of doctor for the (COVID-19) Case Investigation and Contact Tracing System, was convicted of fraud in violation of Title 18 U.S.C.A. sec. 1028 (1) (2) and this clearly emerges from a resolution issued by the Licensing and Medical Discipline Board, which has worked with documents related to his recruitment in the municipality.
Furthermore, DIPAC indicated that the preliminary investigation revealed that Cancel Zapata was permanently disqualified from being employed in the municipality of Arecibo due to his criminal conviction in federal court. Therefore, the Justice chief said, Cancel Zapata should never have been recruited or appointed by Ramírez Irizarry to the position he held and for which he received public funds as payment.
Regarding the appointment of González López to the position of special assistant to the mayor and for which she earns a salary paid with public funds, the DIPAC investigation revealed that, once she was convicted of the crime of negligence in complying with her duty and sentenced under the suspended sentence system, the mayor had the duty to initiate an authorization process in the island Department of Labor and Human Resources, as provided in the Municipal Code, in the Authorization Regulation for the Public Service and in the regulations of the municipality of Arecibo.
Despite the findings, DIPAC concluded that it is not possible to establish the element of specific intent.
“On this occasion, although we agree with the findings of the investigation, we differ regarding the interpretation of the law made by DIPAC,” the Justice secretary said in a written statement. “Under the protection of my powers as secretary, I recommended the designation of an SIP in accordance with the findings of the investigation, the current legal standard and the amount of proof required at this stage of the proceedings regarding whether there is sufficient cause to believe that a serious crime was committed.”
Because the investigation now continues at the Office of the Special Independent Prosecutor Panel (OPFEI), the secretary and other Justice Department officials will not comment further on the case.
Since last year, the Justice Department’s DIPAC has completed 38 investigations that have been referred to the OPFEI related to wrongdoing by mayors, legislators and other officials. DIPAC is currently working on 22 additional investigations.