FBI agents arrest Puerto Rican representative for alleged involvement in conspiracy to defraud to government

María Milagros Charbonier faces a 13-count indictment from the federal government

Danielle Zoellner
New York
@dani__zoellner
Monday 17 August 2020 22:22
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The federal courts served Representative María Milagros Charbonier with a 13-count indictment on Monday (pictured is Puerto Rico's Capitol Building)
The federal courts served Representative María Milagros Charbonier with a 13-count indictment on Monday (pictured is Puerto Rico's Capitol Building)

FBI agents have arrested Puerto Rico Representative María Milagros Charbonier over her alleged connection with a long-term conspiracy theory to defraud the government through means of bribery, theft, kickbacks and money laundering.

A federal grand jury of the District of Puerto Rico returned a 13-count indictment against Ms Charbonier, as well as her husband Orland Montes-Rivera, their son Orland Gabriel Montes-Charbonier, and her assistant Frances Acevedo-Ceballos for their alleged participation in the conspiracy.

US Attorney Stephen Muldrow said the scheme involved Ms Charbonier allegedly receiving some $100,000 in bribes and kickbacks after she increased the pay of her assistant. His pay went from $800 to nearly $3,000 every two weeks, and she would then receive about $1,000 to $1,500 in return from each paycheck.

"It wasn't very complicated," Mr Muldrow said about the alleged scheme, which went on from 2017 to 2020.

Ms Charbonier allegedly inflated her assistant's salary only after they agreed to the kickback scheme. That kickback was paid through a variety of means, including directly to Ms Charbonier, her husband or her son.

All four were charged with one count each of conspiracy and theft of federal funds, bribery and kickbacks using federal funds, and wire fraud. Ms Charbonier and her family were also charged with money laundering.

She additionally was charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying data on her cell phone. The indictment stated that Ms Charbonier "deleted nearly the entire call log, nearly all WhatsApp messages, and nearly all iMessages" on her phone once she learned there was an investigation into her office.

"Puerto Rico legislator María Milagros Charbonier-Laureano, her family, and her associates allegedly carried out a brazen scheme to defraud the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico through bribery, kickbacks, theft, and fraud," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C Rabbitt of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. "When elected officials betray the people's trust in order to enrich themselves at the public's expense, the Justice Department will hold them accountable."

Ms Charbonier is one of Puerto Rico's most conservative legislators and was first elected to the country's House of Representatives in 2012.

Her career in politics is a controversial one, as she lands more conservative on issues relating to LGBTQ rights, marijuana legalisation, and other more progressive policies.

As part of her anti-LGBTQ initiatives, she attempted to block same-sex marriage through the Supreme Court by claiming the United States' 2016 decision did not apply to Puerto Rico. The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico dismissed her claim.

Ms Charbonier has served as a representative since 2012, but she lost in Sunday's primary election.

The politician was expected to appear in court later on Monday to address the 13-count indictment against her.

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