• The San Juan Daily Star

Wording in Guaynabo mayor’s indictment bleeds into status debate

Attorney Gregorio Igartúa

By The Star Staff

The recent indictment of suspended Guaynabo Mayor Ángel Pérez Otero in a kickback scheme has not only raised concerns about government corruption, but has also stirred a debate on Puerto Rico’s political status among some statehood sectors.

The second paragraph in Pérez Otero’s indictment describes Puerto Rico as “a self-governing commonwealth in association with the United States of America.” In the eyes of statehood supporters, such as Gregorio Igartúa, a lawyer who has filed lawsuits related to status in U.S. District Court, the wording is worrisome.

“This puts into question the island’s status and that of the U.S. District Court, which was created by Article III of the Constitution and is the same as the ones in the states,” Igartúa said.

Igartúa wrote to federal authorities asking them to amend the complaint against Pérez Otero as well as other indictments to remove the offending status language. As it is written, he said, it promotes the status language of an associated state promoted by the Popular Democratic Party.

“We have to be careful about what we write in federal documents,” he said.

Federal agents arrested Pérez Otero, the mayor of one of the wealthiest municipalities in Puerto Rico, on corruption charges last week, the second such case this month.

Pérez Otero faces three counts, including bribery and extortion. He is accused of regularly accepting payments of $5,000 in exchange for awarding contracts to the owner of a construction company.

The indictment alleges that the scheme ran from 2019 to 2021 and accuses the two of meeting in secret places and of using coded text messages.

There is also a video of one of the exchanges.

Pérez Otero was sworn in as mayor in August 2017 following a special election after the former mayor, Héctor O’Neill García, pleaded guilty to sexual harassment, gender violence and violating an ethics law.

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urruita said in a statement that he was disappointed and extremely upset about the arrest. He demanded that Pérez Otero resign immediately as mayor and as president of the Puerto Rico Mayors Federation, which groups mayors from the pro-statehood New Progressive Party.

In early December, federal officials arrested former Cataño Mayor Félix Delgado Montalvo, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and receive kickbacks after he was accused of awarding 50 contracts worth nearly $10 million to an asphalt company.

Radamés Benítez Cardona, the executive assistant of the mayor of Trujillo Alto, also was arrested last week on federal charges, including bribery and extortion. Benítez Cardona is accused of receiving a $200,000 advance payment and more than $17,000 a month from a solid waste company in exchange for securing a government contract for it.

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