Mayors of Aguas Buenas, Humacao arrested on federal corruption charges
By The Star Staff
FBI agents in Puerto Rico arrested the mayors of Aguas Buenas and Humacao, Javier García Pérez and Reinaldo Vargas Rodríguez, respectively, on Thursday and accused them of corruption.
The mayors pleaded not guilty to the charges in the afternoon as Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia demanded their resignations.
Both New Progressive Party (NPP) mayors were accused of conspiring to commit bribery, kickbacks and extortion. The Aguas Buenas mayor allegedly received some $32,000 as part of an alleged scheme that began in 2017 with payments from two contractors in exchange for contracts for asphalting and repaving works, as well as the removal of debris and garbage.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Humacao Mayor Vargas Rodríguez received $15,000 in kickbacks between March and April 2021.
The two were released on bail by Magistrate Marcos López and were given until May 19 to pay $10,000.
Upon receiving a copy of the criminal indictment from the U.S. Prosecutor’s Office, the Special Independent Prosecutor (FEI by its Spanish initials) issued a resolution and order suspending the mayors from their positions.
Through the resolution, the FEI ordered the vice mayor of the Humacao, Gilberto Claudio, and the administrative secretary of Aguas Buenas, Rafael Ortiz Fontánez, to strip Vargas Rodríguez and García Pérez, respectively, of any municipal property, including all equipment, cell phones, computers, credit cards, gas cards, documents, files, vehicles and any other property in their possession.
Both mayors are expected to resign and NPP Secretary General Carmelo Ríos said he has two potential dates for an open election in which both mayors would be replaced.
“I have been firm with these types of cases and this time is no exception, so I demand the immediate resignation of both mayors arrested today and I hope that the force of the law falls on them and on anyone who thinks of failing Puerto Rico again,” Pierluisi said in a press release.
Vargas Rodríguez is serving his first term as mayor of Humacao, while his counterpart in Aguas Buenas is in his second four-year term.
The actions came a day after an individual in charge of Pierluisi’s political action group, Joseph Fuentes Fernàndez, a certified public accountant, pleaded guilty in federal court to filing illegal straw donations.
Thursday’s two arrests made it five mayors arrested so far this four-year term for engaging in corrupt acts, and more arrests are said to be coming.
The other mayors arrested for corruption are Ángel Pérez Otero, from Guaynabo; Félix Delgado Montalvo, from Cataño, and Eduardo Cintrón Suárez, from Guayama.
In December, another media outlet revealed that Vargas Rodríguez had received cash from businessman Oscar Santamaría, president of the company Waste Collection, which is dedicated to garbage and debris collection.
Gabriel Hernández Rodríguez, president of the Puerto Rico Mayors Federation, said in a press release that the arrests of Vargas Rodríguez and García Pérez “redirected the attention of the people and the municipal governments to matters that contribute nothing to the well being of the island.”
U.S. Prosecutor W. Stephen Muldrow said at a news conference that the mayors were arrested for allegedly conspiring to commit bribery and participating in kickback schemes.
He warned that there will be more arrests of mayors.
“To the public officials who do not fulfill their duties, know that they will be prosecuted and subjected to the penalties that correspond to their acts,” Muldrow said.
Joseph González, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Juan Field Office, called on those public officials who have participated in corruption schemes to come forward and reach plea bargains with prosecutors.
“Some listened and took my words seriously, but others didn’t and we had to go knock on doors,” González said. “So I’m going to repeat, where there are allegations of corruption, we’re going to investigate. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”