Today, the FBI arrested two former senior officials who served with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, along with four other suspects in a corruption scandal, according to the Washington Post. The scandal has led to calls for Rosselló’s resignation.
The indictment of Rosselló’s former officials alleges that the government misdirected $15.5 million in federal funds to politically-connected contractors between 2017 and 2019.
Though the indictment doesn’t mention Rosselló, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona congressman who chairs the Natural Resource Committee that oversees Puerto Rico, has called for his resignation.
“We’ve crossed that crucible now,” Grijalva told the Post. “The restoration of accountability is so key going forward.”
The indictment included charges of six people, including Julia Keleher, Puerto Rico’s former education secretary (a highly paid consultant who isn’t even Puerto Rican), and Ángela Ávila-Marrero, the former director of the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration.
“Keleher and Avila-Marrero exploited their government positions and fraudulently awarded contracts funded with federal monies,” U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Vélez said in a statement. “The charged offenses are reprehensible, more so in light of Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis.”
The scandal is particularly dangerous for the island considering President Trump’s frequent threats to cut off federal funding. Puerto Rican politicians now worry that Trump will take the indictment as confirmation that the island is misusing its aid.
San Juan Mayor Yulin Cruz said poor Puerto Ricans will be the real victims of this scandal. She told the Post that the allegations “do not represent what the people of Puerto Rico are about.”
“The governor of Puerto Rico and his administration have now given President Trump the ammunition he needed,” Cruz, who is a political opponent of .Rosselló, told the Post.
Since the disastrous Hurricane Maria in 2017, the federal government has approved $42 billion in aid for the island’s recovery, but only $14 billion has been spent. The hurricane caused an estimated 3,000 deaths and between $90 and $120 billion in damage.
Even before the hurricane hit, Puerto Rico was facing a dire economic reality. The island is in the midst of a 13-year recession that has seen residents leave the island in huge numbers. The government declared bankruptcy in 2017.
Federico A. de Jesús, a consultant and former deputy director of the Puerto Rican governor’s Washington office, emphasized the corruption scandal does not change the need for aid.
“While regrettable, and anyone who committed wrongdoing should pay to the full extent of the law, this does not in any way, shape, or form change the real need tens of thousands of people in Puerto Rico have for disaster aid,” de Jesús, told the Post. “Corruption has also happened in other jurisdictions and that never slowed down aid. This should not be any different.”
Correction: The original wording of this story implied de Jesús was a current member of the administration. He is not.