US Attorney for Puerto Rico: ‘I don’t announce promises, I announce results’
Stephen Muldrow continues to ‘fight and deter corruption and fraud’ a year after his appointment
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
After a year as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, William Stephen Muldrow said Monday that “we haven’t stopped working,” as his office has to date closed 684 cases during the year -- 93 more cases than the average.
Muldrow also confirmed that investigations in the Puerto Rico Legislature are ongoing.
During a roundtable at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Muldrow spoke with reporters about the achievements during his first year as the head of the office, which consists of the progress of task forces such as the Public Affairs Division to connect with the community, Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF), Affirmative Civil Enforcement (ACE), Hate Crimes Division, Caribbean Anti-Money Laundering Alliance and other programs.
As for the CCSF, he said it is “working really hard in the community,” as it is a program within the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, which works closely with the Office of National Drug Control Policy and collaborates with different agencies to “perform maritime operations, identify, interrupt and dismantle international narcotics and large-scale money laundering organizations that import and promote cocaine transshipment and money laundering activities.”
“That mission is being amplified to focus on transnational criminal organizations based in the Caribbean and South America that are behind the daily maritime [trafficking of] narcotics contraband from Puerto Rico to the continental United States and in the laundering of the proceeds of drug trafficking through cash smuggling on every scale,” Muldrow said.
The U.S. attorney said the strike force not only targets transnational organized crime groups, but it also has task forces such as the Caribbean Anti-Money Laundering Alliance that intervene with both the import and export of controlled substances and dirty money through airports and along coasts, and with fugitives.
“We recognize that we’re having an effect in the streets due [to an increase in] the price of cocaine per kilo. A kilo of cocaine before would have cost $21,000; as of now, it’s around $30,000-$35,000. This shows that we are confiscating drugs on the streets, which has an impact on their price,” Muldrow said. “Through CCSF, we confiscated approximately 6,256 kilos of cocaine in 2019. In 2020, we have retrieved more than 15,680 kilos; although it’s not an official number, it reflects, without a doubt, the tremendous increase in drug confiscation by the agencies with which we are working. It’s almost triple the numbers from last year.”
In terms of money, the CCSF has retrieved more than $3.1 million in Puerto Rico through the aforementioned task force, compared to last year when it netted $1.3 million. However, Muldrow said those numbers can be expected to change because the office intervened with two cases in which they retrieved up to $1.3 million and which have yet to be included in the official data.
“As for the Asset Recovery and Money Laundering Division, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Miriam Fernández, during fiscal year 2020, the total recovery of money from forfeiture was more than $17.1 million,” he said.
Meanwhile, ACE, whose mission Muldrow said is to promote and protect the United States’ financial and programmatic interests through civil litigations, has collected more than $14 million since 2018. He emphasized that “fighting and dissuading fraud is one of the main priorities for both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and this office.”
“The program is focused on detecting, prosecuting, and deterring the waste and abuse of federal funds in healthcare, education, housing and other general matters,” Muldrow said, adding that his office invested in ACE by hiring four prosecutors, an investigative analyst and a financial analyst to focus on fraud cases.
“If we combine the money that we have confiscated through every force, it adds up to more than $26 million, and our main yearly budget is $12 million, which means that we are getting more than what we are allocated,” he said.
As for gang-related violence, the U.S. attorney said his office “has been focused on the investigation and prosecution of crime organizations that dedicate themselves to distributing illegal drugs on a large scale.” He also noted that they work on cases of organizations involved in murders, shootings and other violent incidents on the island along with the DOJ and the Puerto Rico Police Bureau.
“The U.S. Attorney will continue confiscating illegal firearms from the hands of criminals, and this includes a renewed focus on those who illegally trade weapons,” Muldrow said. “A great portion of such weapons retrieved from the streets of Puerto Rico originate outside the island; reducing their flow is fundamental to decreasing violent crimes.”
As for the U.S. attorney joining forces with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to fight against judicial corruption as was announced last year, Muldrow said his office is providing attention and allocating resources because “any person who is a judge, an officer or a contractor with the government, we are going to investigate.”
“I can’t tell you that we have three ongoing investigations against judges or anything like that,” Muldrow said. “What I am going to tell you is that judicial integrity is extremely important and anyone who decides to be corrupt will be investigated.”
Regarding the ongoing investigations in the Puerto Rico Legislature, in which the U.S. attorney issued indictments against New Progressive Party Reps. María Milagros Charbonier and Nelson del Valle, Muldrow said that although their cases are yet to be closed, “I don’t talk about them if they are investigating or a case is pending, but you can assume that there are other investigations going.”
“As I said before, we are adding many resources in order to work in this area and as I have said: ‘I don’t announce promises, I announce results.’ You can assume that we are investigating,” Muldrow said. “I want to emphasize that if a person in the community has more information on the case, it’s always better to come [to us] early than to come late.”
When a reporter asked if citizens could expect to see the results of such investigations before the general elections in two weeks, Muldrow replied “I can’t say when you will see results, but you will see results.”