Yet Another Political Scandal Is Rocking Puerto Rico. Here’s What We Know.


Image Courtesy of La Fortaleza

By Mivette Vega

July 7, 2020

Gov. Wanda Vázquez denies any connection between finding out she’s being investigated by an independent special prosecutor and asking the now-former Secretary of Justice to resign.

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez said she was not aware of an investigation being in place against her when she asked former Secretary of Justice Dennise Longo Quiñones to resign last Friday.

“I was never notified of any investigation against me. The request for her resignation was not connected to this ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice,” Vázquez expressed Tuesday morning at a news conference.

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The governor allegedly withdrew her trust from Longo when as secretary of justice she intervened in a federal investigation related to medical fraud from 2014 to 2019. She was supposed to inhibit herself from any investigation related to the health department, because her mother, Concepción Quiñones, was deputy secretary of that agency for a short period of time.

“The reason trust was withdrawn is that she improperly intervened in a federal investigation on Medicaid fraud related to the health department by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” the governor said.

Vázquez’s news conference addressed reports from several media outlets late Monday claiming that the request for Longo to resign was in response to the former secretary’s order to investigate the governor. The investigation dealt with the handling of a warehouse facility in Ponce that contained emergency supplies for victims of earthquakes that severely damaged the southwestern region of the island in January.

After seeing media reports on the matter, leaders of the opposing Popular Democratic Party said they had requested on their end a legislative investigation into allegations of obstruction of justice.

Late Friday, Vázquez announced she had accepted Longo’s resignation. No further details were revealed then.

Longo, on her end, had referred the report to an independent special prosecutor panel (OPFEI, by its Spanish initials) and was signed by three prosecutors. Six boxes with files for the investigation were supposed to be delivered on Monday to the prosecutors’ office.

Nydia Cotto — a former judge who serves as president of the panel — told The Associated Press someone from the Department of Justice was about to drop off files but left suddenly after receiving a call from an unidentified person at the department.

“That has never happened before,” Cotto said.

A New Secretary of Justice

Wandymar Burgos, the interim secretary of justice, said in a statement that she was the one who stopped the delivery of the documents, as she found out about them on Monday and needed to know what they contained.

“Let it be abundantly clear to all the people of Puerto Rico that all necessary investigations will be carried out to the last consequence, regardless of the person involved,” Burgos said in a press release.

During the conference, Vázquez said she had not seen the report from the investigations. She insisted that the referral to the independent special prosecutor (FEI by its Spanish initials) was done in a hurry after she requested Longo’s resignation.  

Vázquez herself asked the justice department to deliver the files to the independent special prosecutor panel office.

“I’m not afraid. We know the FEI’s trajectory,” said Vázquez, questioning the performance of the prosecutor.

Vázquez served as Puerto Rico’s justice secretary before the island’s Supreme Court ruled she should be sworn in as governor after former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló stepped down from office almost a year ago, following massive protests. Those protests are collectively known as Verano del ‘19. 

A Previous Investigation

While Vázquez was holding the news conference, Longo sent a news release to explain that OPFEI has known since March about the investigations against local government officials. 

“In March, April, and May, prosecutors from the local Public Integrity Division interviewed witnesses, reviewed evidence, and wrote a report summarizing their findings. In June, a report was presented to me, which we discussed and reviewed,” Longo said in a statement shared by her lawyer, Mayra López Mulero.

The former secretary explained that she had requested to be inhibited from the investigation, but the Office of Government Ethics (OEG by its Spanish initials) determined the inhibition did not proceed because the investigation did not involve the health department.

Longo Quiñones said once she completed the report, she left it ready for the new justice secretary to sign.

“Once the Secretary and the prosecutors sign all the documents, they will be filed. I left the documents signed so that my successor could follow her course of action,” Longo explained.

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