Venezuelan banker pleads not guilty in corruption case
By The Star Staff
Venezuelan banker, Julio Herrera Velutini, pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges as he made his initial appearance in the U.S. District Court Wednesday.
Early on Wednesday, the US Attorney’s Office informed Herrera Velutini had surrendered himself. Federal Magistrate Giselle López Soler set bail for Herrera Velutini at $1 million arguing that he was a flight risk and ordered the accused to remain in his house near the court of the Southern District of New York.
His lawyer Sonia Torres Pabón had asked the court that he be allowed to remain in both the Southern District of Florida and in New York because he has employment interests in both jurisdictions, but the magistrate denied the request.
Herrera Velutini had hired Miami lawyer Lillian Ann Sanchez to represent him. His local counsel that will represent Herrera Velutini is Sonia Torres Pabón, of DLA Piper. Another document in the docket shows that he also hired lawyer Michel Zweiback.
Vazquez and Herrera Velutini together with former FBI agent Mark Rossini are charged on seven counts related to a bribery scheme to benefit her own campaign.
According to the indictment, from December 2019 through June 2020, Vázquez Garced, 62, allegedly engaged in a bribery scheme with Herrera Velutini, Frances Díaz, Rossini, and John Blakeman to finance Vázquez Garced’s 2020 gubernatorial election campaign.
Herrera Velutini, 50, a dual Venezuelan-Italian citizen residing in London, owned an international bank operating in San Juan. Díaz, 50, of Puerto Rico was the CEO and President of the international bank owned by Herrera Velutini. The bank, which was not identified in the indictment is Bancrédito International Bank & Trust. Rossini, 60, of Madrid, Spain, provided consulting services to Herrera Velutini. Blakeman, 53, is a political consultant who worked on Vázquez Garced’s 2020 campaign.
According to the indictment, beginning in 2019, Herrera Velutini’s bank was the subject of an examination by Puerto Rico’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions (OCIF), a regulatory agency that oversees financial institutions operating in Puerto Rico. Through intermediaries, Herrera Velutini and Rossini allegedly promised to provide funding to support Vázquez Garced’s 2020 gubernatorial election campaign in exchange for Vázquez Garced terminating the Commissioner of OCIF, George Richard Joyner, and appointing a new Commissioner of Herrera Velutini’s choosing, who was Víctor Rodríguez Bonilla, who worked at Bancredito.
According to the indictment, Herrera Velutini attended a wedding of an individual identified as Individual C and was seated in the same table as Vazquez. When Blakeman sent a text message to Herrera seeking support, Herrera replied “She has it! In this table she already has 2MM,” then later wrote “But she has to resolve OCIF.”
The indictment alleges that Vázquez Garced accepted the offer of a bribe and, in February 2020, took official action to demand the resignation of OCIF Commissioner A and, in May 2020, to appoint OCIF Commissioner B – a former consultant for the international bank owned by Herrerac Velutini – who had been personally selected by Herrera Velutini. In return, Herrera Velutini and Rossini allegedly paid more than $300,000 to political consultants in support of Vázquez Garced’s campaign.
The indictment further alleges that following Vázquez Garced’s primary election loss in August 2020, Herrera Velutini sought to bribe her successor, identified as Public Official A, presumably current Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, by offering funding in support of Public Official A’s campaign in exchange for Public Official A ending OCIF’s audit of Herrera Velutini’s bank on terms favorable to Herrera Velutini.
According to the indictment, between April 2021 and August 2021, Herrera Velutini allegedly used intermediaries to convey his offer of a bribe to a witness, Joseph Fuentes Fernandez, who held himself out as a representative of Public Official A, but who was in fact acting at the direction of the FBI. As noted in the indictment, the witness was acting at the direction of the FBI during this timeframe