Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila was charged Thursday with 19 counts in a campaign finance probe, including conspiracy to violate U.S. federal campaign laws and giving false testimony to the FBI.
The indictment also charged 12 others associated with Acevedo’s Popular Democratic Party as a result of a two-year grand jury investigation, acting U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said.
Acevedo, a superdelegate for the Democratic Party who has pledged to support Sen. Barack Obama, served in Washington as the island’s nonvoting delegate to Congress and was elected governor in 2004 after campaigning on an anti-corruption platform.
Acevedo denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the indictment as nothing but politics and “a spectacle designed to damage me.”
His written statement did not go into specifics about federal prosecutors’ alleged motives. But in the past Acevedo has said U.S. authorities targeted him for his criticism of a September 2005 FBI raid in which a fugitive Puerto Rican militant was killed.
Tied to campaign debts
The defendants in Puerto Rico, Washington and the Philadelphia area are accused of conspiring to illegally raise money to pay off Acevedo’s campaign debts from his campaigns in 2000 and 2002 to be the U.S. island territory’s nonvoting member of Congress.
“The governor will be permitted to turn himself in deference to his position,” Rodriguez said.
He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, Rodriguez said. Acevedo said he will turn himself in Friday morning.
At least five others named in the indictment were led in handcuffs into the U.S. federal building in San Juan early Thursday morning.
Thomas Green, a Washington-based attorney for Acevedo, said he had not yet reviewed the charges but criticized the election-year indictment as “an unprecedented and undeserved intrusion by the federal government” in Puerto Rican affairs.
Acevedo’s claims of persecution have support in Puerto Rico, where many feel a deep-rooted nationalism and hostility toward the U.S. federal government.
Rodriguez rejected any suggestion that the indictment was driven by politics.
“Nobody is above the law. We all lose when electoral processes are compromised ... for our part, we are not politicians, we do not make political decisions,” she said.
Acevedo, 46, and his associates are accused of conducting unreported fundraising to far exceed funding limits during his 2004 campaign for governor. As part of the fraud, they allegedly used their own or their companies’ money to cover unreported debts to the campaign’s public relations and media company.
Contracts for Philly allies alleged
The 55-page indictment alleges that Acevedo also personally helped a group of Philadelphia-area businessmen in their efforts to obtain Puerto Rican government contracts after they delivered illegal campaign contributions from their own staff and family members.
Acevedo’s party favors maintaining the island’s semiautonomous relationship with the U.S. mainland. His leading opponent in this year’s governor’s race favors making Puerto Rico the 51st state.