Ex-Education Secretary, 5 Others Arrested On Fraud Charges In Puerto Rico

Former Education Secretary Julia Keleher was among six Puerto Rican officials accused of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors.
A federal agent escorts education contractor Mayra Ponce-Mendoza who was arrested in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 10, 2019.
A federal agent escorts education contractor Mayra Ponce-Mendoza who was arrested in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 10, 2019.
ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) 鈥 Puerto Rico鈥檚 former secretary of education and five other people were arrested Wednesday on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors, federal officials said.

Federal officials said Wednesday morning that former Education Secretary Julia Keleher; former Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head 脕ngela 脕vila-Marrero; businessmen Fernando Scherrer-Caillet and Alberto Vel谩zquez-Pi帽ol, and education contractors Glenda E. Ponce-Mendoza and Mayra Ponce-Mendoza, who are sisters, were arrested by the FBI on 32 counts of fraud and related charges.

The alleged fraud involves $15.5 million in federal funding between 2017 and 2019. Thirteen million was spent by the Department of Education during Keleher鈥檚 time as secretary while $2.5 million was spent by the insurance administration when 脕vila was the director.

Officials said there was no evidence that Keleher or 脕vila-Marrero had personally benefited from the scheme.

U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodr铆guez said Vel谩zquez Pi帽ol had improperly taken advantage of contacts in the education and health insurance agencies to win federal contracts and illegally used federal money to pay for lobbying.

Glenda E. Ponce-Mendoza worked as Keleher鈥檚 assistant and both she and her sister were friends of the former education secretary. Officials said Keleher bypassed regular bidding procedures to steer contracts toward her friends.

鈥淚t was alleged that the defendants engaged in a public corruption campaign and profited at the expense of the Puerto Rican citizens and students. This type of corruption is particularly egregious because it not only victimizes tax payers, it victimizes those citizens and students that are in need of educational assistance,鈥 said Neil Sanchez, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Education鈥檚 Office of Inspector General鈥檚 Southern Region.

Rodr铆guez said Gov. Ricardo Rossell贸 was not involved in the investigation.

Rossell贸 said he was returning early from vacation in Europe to meet with legislators and members of his administration about the investigation.

鈥淭o maintain the trust of the people in the institutions of the government is a constant challenge that all of us who work in public service have,鈥 he said in a statement. 鈥淭hat trust is torn when public officials or those related, are accused of crimes of corruption.鈥

FBI agents escort businessman Fernando Scherrer-Caillet who was arrested in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 10, 2019.
FBI agents escort businessman Fernando Scherrer-Caillet who was arrested in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 10, 2019.
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Multiple Puerto Rican officials over a series of administrations have been hit by charges of corruption and misuse of funds.

鈥淚t鈥檚 a shame that we see this type of scheme, one after another,鈥 Rodr铆guez said. 鈥淭here鈥檚 much work to be done in Puerto Rico ... this is the type of case that鈥檚 been seen so much, involving federal funds, and it鈥檚 shameful.鈥

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