The FBI has arrested Julia Keleher, Puerto Rico’s former education secretary, and five other people on a combined 32 counts of fraud and related charges.
Here’s what we know
The Associated Press reported that Keleher and her alleged co-conspirators were accused of spending $13 million in federal money on unqualified contractors with political connections. Keleher’s assistant and that assistant’s sister were also arrested as part of the same case.
“It 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,” Neil Sanchez, the special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General’s Southern Region said, according to the AP.
In addition to Keleher, former Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head Ángela Ávila-Marrero was arrested and charged with spending $2.5 million in federal funds on similar contractors for political purposes. Neither former official is being accused of benefiting personally. Both Keleher’s and Ávila’s alleged crimes took place between 2017 and 2019.
Keleher resigned from her post in April. Puerto Rico’s Association of Teachers accused her of having “created chaos” after the Puerto Rican government under Keleher’s watch closed 400 of the public schools on the island to save money.
In June, Dougless Leff, the FBI special agent in charge of the bureau’s San Juan Field Office, told Radio Isla that the FBI was conducting a probe into accusations of favoritism and corruption related to government contracts. He said it that it was possible that this would lead to some arrests, but declined to give specifics.
This came only days after the forced resignation of Puerto Rican Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado, who had talked in a radio interview about an “institutional mafia” of corruption in the Puerto Rican government.