SIP to investigate Telecommunications Bureau president
By John McPhaul
The Special Independent Prosecutor Panel (PFEI by its Spanish initials) announced on Tuesday that it accepted the Puerto Rico Justice Department’s recommendation to assign a special independent prosecutor to investigate Telecommunications Bureau President Sandra Torres López and her adviser, Katherine Erazo García, for allegedly using Torres López’s office to assist in the re-election campaign of former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares.
The PFEI’s determination arises after evaluating the preliminary investigation report submitted by Interim Justice Secretary Inés del C. Carrau Martínez, and signed by Phoebe Isales Forsythe, director of the Division of Public Integrity and Comptroller Affairs, and Assistant Prosecutor Teresita del Rosario Morales Arteaga, both officials of the Justice Department.
The PFEI indicated that it appears from the preliminary investigation report that during working hours Torres López asked Telecommunications Bureau employee Exel López Vélez to organize a fundraising activity for the re-election campaign of the then-governor Rosselló Nevares.
In addition, the Justice Department alleged that Torres López instructed López Vélez to seek donations for the fundraising activity among the trust employees of the Telecommunications Bureau, the telecommunications companies regulated by the Telecommunications Bureau and the contractors of the governmental entity.
López Vélez allegedly communicated with the employees and contractors for the aforementioned purpose. As a result of the Justice Department’s investigation, evidence was provided to demonstrate the facts alleged, as well as a statement under oath that López Vélez gave before the Justice Department, the PFEI said.
López Vélez also told the Justice Department that he had filed several complaints against Torres López, the first with the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, another with the La Fortaleza Chief of Staff’s Office, a third with the Government Ethics Office and yet another with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
López Vélez said that at the Telecommunications Bureau facilities and during working hours, Erazo García informed him and Torres López that then-Gov. Rosselló Nevares had ordered each of the executive branch’s agencies to raise funds for his re-election campaign.
At that time, Torres López allegedly said the Bureau was going to cooperate, the Justice Department report said. In addition, according to the report, other interventions related to partisan political issues, both by Torres López and Erazo García, occurred during working hours.
In its resolution on the case, the PFEI states that López Vélez could be entitled to some protection as a whistleblower on acts of corruption. That is not necessarily the case, however. Therefore, the determination on the extension of the investigation and the possible filing of complaints against him is a matter for the PFEI to decide.
According to the PFEI, other irregularities are attributable to Torres López that, if true, could constitute serious violations of the law. These include the use of an official vehicle and driver to attend meetings of a partisan political nature, as well as other actions related to the purchase of and payment for services.
The PFEI concluded that based on the fact that the record submitted by the Justice Department contains evidence that proves that the allegations set forth therein could be the subject of criminal charges, it orders that a thorough investigation be conducted. The infractions of the law are both of the Penal Code of Puerto Rico of 2012, as well as various provisions of the Government Ethics Law, in the criminal sphere of that law.
The PFEI appointed Ramón Mendoza Rosario as the special independent prosecutor and Miguel Colón Ortiz as the delegate prosecutor in the investigation. They were granted a period of 90 days, provided in Law 2-1988, starting from the notification date of the aforementioned resolution.