Image: Puerto Rico's Governor Acevedo Vila arrives at court in San Juan
Ana Martinez  /  Reuters
Anibal Acevedo Vila, the governor of Puerto Rico, arrives at the U.S. Federal Court building in San Juan on Friday to attend his first hearing on election-funding fraud charges.
updated 3/28/2008 12:19:55 PM ET 2008-03-28T16:19:55

Puerto Rico's governor pleaded not guilty Friday to corruption charges.

Hundreds of flag-waving supporters turned out to cheer Anibal Acevedo Vila when he arrived at the federal courthouse to be fingerprinted and have his mug shot taken before appearing in front of a federal magistrate. The governor then used a smart phone to send a message of gratitude from inside the courthouse to his raucous supporters outside.

"We recognize the presence of the outraged Puerto Ricans here in defense of our people," he said. "We give them thanks and respect."

Vila was released on his own recognizance.

The governor is charged with 19 counts in an alleged campaign finance scheme. He potentially faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Vila is the first Puerto Rican governor to face federal charges since the island became a semiautonomous U.S. commonwealth in 1952.

The indictment accuses Acevedo and a dozen associates of illegally raising money to pay off more than $500,000 in campaign debts from his two terms as Puerto Rico's nonvoting delegate to Congress from 2000-2004.

Politically motivated attack?
Vila has accused U.S. authorities of a launching a politically motivated attack.

Acevedo, who is up for re-election this year, said in a televised address Thursday that he will not resign.

"While I will vigorously defend my actions, my family and my honor, I will never let a politically motivated process distract me from the job I do for you," he said.

Acevedo had accused the Justice Department of targeting him for his criticism of a 2005 FBI raid in Puerto Rico in which a fugitive independence militant was killed. He also says he is being targeted for his opposition to the death penalty, which can only be imposed in the island for federal crimes.

Acting U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez and the head of the FBI in San Juan have denied that the charges against him were politically motivated.

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