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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Ponce mayor, facing corruption charges, is suspended from his duties

Ponce Mayor Luis Manuel Irizarry Pabón

By The Star Staff

Luis Manuel Irizarry Pabón was suspended on Wednesday from his duties as mayor of Ponce by the Disciplinary Administrative Processing Unit of the Office of the Special Independent Prosecutor Panel (OPFEI by its Spanish initials).

As reported by the STAR, the mayor was indicted on Tuesday after Judge Adria Cruz Cruz found cause for arrest against him on charges brought by the Office of the Special Independent Prosecutor (OFEI).

Later on Tuesday, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) President Jesús Manuel Ortiz said Irizarry Pabón would be removed from all his political positions in the party.

The OFEI filed four charges against Irizarry Pabón, for which he presented himself at the office in Hato Rey Wednesday morning to be booked for alleged unjustified enrichment and violations of the Government Ethics Law.

Since April, the OFEI has been investigating Irizarry Pabón, based on the recommendation of the Department of Justice. The report from the agency’s Division of Public Integrity and Comptroller Affairs suggests that the mayor may have violated the Government Ethics Act and the Political Campaign Finance Control Act.

The case began with an email sent to Yesmín Valdivieso, Comptroller of Puerto Rico, in which it was alleged that the mayor instructed municipal officials to solicit monetary contributions from trust employees and those affiliated with the PDP.

The complaint also suggests that the money raised was used to cover Irizarry Pabón’s election campaign expenses and other expenses.

“Definitely, this is a conspiracy against this mayor, by people who, at the right time, are going to be proven to have committed crimes,” said Irizarry Pabón upon leaving the court hearing on Tuesday.

As reported by the STAR on Wednesday, the charges filed by the OFEI include two violations of Article 4.2 of the Government Ethics Act, related to required financial reporting, and two violations of Article 251 of the Penal Code for illicit enrichment. The court is presided over by Judge Adria Cruz Cruz.

“The comptroller of elections determined that the loan was a campaign loan and that the contributions or money that was used to pay it back was campaign contributions. So, it wasn’t a personal loan,” said the mayor’s attorney José Andreu Fuentes. “Look, the mayor put more than 60% of the campaign money out of his pocket into his campaign. He put more than $100,000 of his money out of pocket to pay for his own campaign. So, tell me where the $30,000 comes from? He did put in a hundred and something thousand dollars to pay for his campaign. How is it possible that for $30,000 and it is not $30,000 of what was imputed to him, it is $6,000 of contributions to pay that loan. The loan established by the Comptroller of Elections was a campaign loan because it was deposited in the campaign. Now, why wasn’t it deposited in full? Wait for the hearing to see it. Because who got the money? Let’s see, it wasn’t the mayor.”

Cruz, of the Ponce Court, determined cause for arrest on the four counts and set a bail of $20,000.

Irizarry Pabón was booked on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

The preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 16.

“What happens is that this is not a case as the defense intends to bring it, a case of political donations,” Special Prosecutor Zulma Fuster said in response to questions from the press. “Employees here were not making a voluntary donation. Here the employees were forced by the mayor; they were [given] specific instructions from the mayor that they had to repay [a] loan and it was not a campaign loan, it was a personal loan as you could see from the evidence. A loan that he originated in Banco Popular and was signed by him and the obligation was his, it was not the campaign committee or anyone else’s, it was his, personal.”

“Well, I didn’t say it, the loan documents say it,” she added. “Here are 23 affidavits including many from employees saying that the mayor gave them instructions.”

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