SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Former Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez was arrested Thursday in the U.S. territory on bribery charges, according to a statement from the Department of Justice. It marks the first time that a former leader of the island faces federal charges.
A political consultant for the former governor and the president of the international bank also pleaded guilty to involvement in a bribery scheme, the Justice Department added.
Juan Rosado-Reynés, a spokesman for Vázquez, told the AP he did not have immediate comment.
In mid-May, Vázquez’s attorney told reporters that he and his client were preparing for possible charges as the former governor at the time denied any wrongdoing: “I can tell the people of Puerto Rico that I have not committed any crime, that I have not engaged in any illegal or incorrect conduct, as I have always said.”
Vázquez was the second woman to serve as Puerto Rico’s governor and the first former governor to face federal charges. Former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá was charged with campaign finance violations while in office and was found not guilty in 2009. He had been the first Puerto Rico governor to be charged with a crime in recent history.
Vázquez was sworn in as governor in August 2019 after former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló stepped down following massive protests. She served until 2021, after losing the primaries of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party to now Gov Pedro Pierluisi.
Pierluisi commented on the arrest in a statement also posted on Twitter Thursday. "Today we see once more that no one is above the law in Puerto Rico," he said in both. He added that in his administration "there is zero tolerance against corruption."
Vázquez previously served as the island’s justice secretary and a district attorney for more than 30 years.
She became governor after Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court ruled that the swearing in of Pierluisi as governor was unconstitutional because his appointment in 2019 as secretary of state, which would have made him next in line for the governorship, had not been confirmed by both chambers of the legislature.
Vázquez at the time said she was not interested in running for office and would only finish the nearly two years left in Rosselló’s term. She later changed her mind.
Rosselló resigned after tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets, angry over corruption, mismanagement of public funds and an obscenity-laced chat in which he and 11 other men including public officials made fun of women, gay people and victims of Hurricane Maria, among others.
Shortly after she was sworn in, Vázquez told the AP that her priorities were to fight corruption, secure federal hurricane recovery funds and help lift Puerto Rico out of a deep economic crisis as the government sought to emerge from bankruptcy.
During the interview, she told the AP that she had long wanted to be in public service: As a girl, she would stand on her balcony and hold imaginary trials, always finding the supposed defendants guilty.