FBI arrests treasurer of Puerto Rico agency
Dec. 03, 2014
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The FBI on Wednesday arrested the treasurer of a debt-ridden public agency in Puerto Rico whose finances the government is trying to strengthen with help from a proposed tax increase that has angered many in the U.S. territory.
Agents seized items after raiding an office of the Highway and Transportation Authority in the capital of San Juan and arresting one employee, spokesman Moises Quinones said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement that Silvino Cepeda Ortiz is charged with bribery involving programs that receive federal funds. Authorities accused Cepeda of issuing government checks with insufficient funds that would be funded later, and of requesting $10,000 in exchange for making funds available for a nearly $2 million check issued in September 2014 for an invoice from July 2013.
Authorities said Cepeda was arrested minutes after they accused him of accepting the final payment of a $10,000 bribe he had allegedly demanded earlier from officials with asphalt and concrete manufacturing companies.
It was not immediately clear if Cepeda had an attorney.
Cepeda had been with the Highway and Transportation Authority since 2000, holding various positions before being named treasurer in 2012, agency spokeswoman Acela Soler said.
The agency's finances have been the focus of recent intense legislative debates over a bill that would increase the excise tax on a barrel of crude oil by 68 percent. Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has said the tax is needed to strengthen the agency, which owes $2.2 billion to Puerto Rico's Government Development Bank, about 21 percent of the bank's portfolio. The bill also would allow the government to sell up to $2.9 billion in bonds and refinance at least $1 billion in loans made to the Highway and Transportation Authority.
The arrest came as senators prepared Wednesday to debate the measure, which the island's House of Representatives approved late Tuesday with amendments.
Garcia warned last week that the island's public transportation would be paralyzed if legislators rejected the bill because the agency was running out of funds.