FBI Arrests Wanda Vázquez, Puerto Rico's Ex-Governor, on Corruption Charges

The FBI arrested former Puerto Rico governor Wanda Vázquez Garced on Thursday morning on corruption charges. She is the first former governor of the island to face federal charges.

Vázquez, her political consultant and the president of an international bank are accused of bribery related to funding her 2020 campaign, the Justice Department said in a press release.

"The alleged bribery scheme rose to the highest levels of the Puerto Rican government, threatening public trust in our electoral processes and institutions of governance," said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. "The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable those who wrongly believe there is one rule of law for the powerful and another for the powerless. No one is above the rule of law."

Vázquez, 62, was allegedly involved in a bribery scheme with a number of people from December of 2019 to June of 2020 in an effort to finance her 2020 gubernatorial election campaign, according to the Justice Department.

FBI Arrests Wanda Vázquez, Puerto Rico’s Ex-Governor
The FBI arrested former Puerto Rico governor Wanda Vázquez on Thursday. Above, Vazquez speaks during a press conference to announce strict new rules for all passengers flying into Puerto Rico to curb coronavirus cases in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on June 30, 2020. Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

Also charged were Julio Martin Herrera Velutini, a 50-year-old Venezuelan-Italian citizen living in London who owns an unidentified international bank operating in San Juan, and bank CEO and President Frances Diaz, 50, of Puerto Rico. Others include Mark Rossini, 60, of Madrid, a former FBI special agent who offered consulting services to Velutini, and John Blakeman, 53, a political consultant for Vázquez.

Vázquez, Rossini and Velutini are facing charges of conspiracy, federal programs bribery and honest services wire fraud. Each could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The former governor was to appear in federal court Thursday in the District of Puerto Rico.

Diaz pleaded guilty in March to bribery-related charges and Blakeman pleaded guilty to conspiring with Velutini and Rossini to bribe Vázquez. Both could face up to five years in prison.

It all started in 2019 when Velutini and Rossini allegedly made a deal with Vázquez to fire the commissioner of the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions (OCIF), a regulatory agency overseeing financial institutions operating in Puerto Rico, in exchange for financing her re-election campaign, according to the Justice Department. The alleged deal included appointing a new commissioner that Velutini would choose.

Vázquez allegedly accepted the bribe and demanded the resignation of the OCIF commissioner in February of 2020. By May, she appointed a new commissioner, who was the former consultant for the international bank owned by Velutini, according to the indictment.

In return, Rossini and Velutini allegedly paid over $300,000 to political consultants to support Vázquez's campaign.

Velutini is also accused of bribing another unidentified official in exchange for ending OCIF's audit of his bank on his terms, according to the Justice Department.

Vázquez's attorney said in May that he and the former governor were preparing to face potential charges at a time when she denied any misconduct, the Associated Press reported.

"I can tell the people of Puerto Rico that I have not committed any crime, that I have not engaged in any illegal or incorrect conduct, as I have always said," Vázquez said.

Her campaign manager, Jorge Dávila, said that news of her arrest didn't surprise him.

"Dismayed and saddened by the situation that former Governor Wanda Vázquez is going through. It doesn't surprise me because she knows that a few weeks ago Mr. Plaza, who is her attorney, had suggested that this could happen," he said, according to El Nuevo Dia.

Update 8/4/22, 12:55 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information.