Puerto Rico calls for special prosecutor over disgraced former governor's chat scandal

The recommendation follows a preliminary investigation into the 889 pages of chats that led to mass protests and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló's resignation.
Image: Ricardo Rossello
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, in San Juan on July 11, 2019.Carlos Giusti / AP file

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By Nicole Acevedo

Puerto Rico's Department of Justice is calling for a special independent prosecutor to investigate the participants in the scandalous private chat that set off the largest protest in the island's history and led to the resignation of Ricardo Rosselló as the island's governor last summer.

DOJ Secretary Denisse Longo Quiñones said in a news release Friday that the request follows a preliminary investigation into the 889 pages of chats from the encrypted messaging app Telegram that were published last year by the island's Center for Investigative Journalism (known as CPI for their name in Spanish).

Based on that initial inquiry, Longo Quiñones said Rosselló should be investigated for his participation in the chat as well as 13 other people, including those who were active or quiet in the chat.

The messages gave Puerto Ricans a glimpse into the administration's efforts to steer the media narrative and smear political opponents, shocking islanders last year with the participants' vulgarity and crassness.

Chat members made fun of an obese man the governor had posed with in a photo; called former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito a “whore”; made homophobic remarks about pop star Ricky Martin; and said that Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan who had announced her intent to run for governor against Rosselló in 2020, was “off her meds ... either that, or she’s a tremendous HP,” the governor said, using the Spanish initials for “son/daughter of a b----.”

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Participants also made jokes about the corpses that piled up after Hurricane Maria, something that struck a chord among many Puerto Ricans and was repeatedly mentioned during the protests calling for Rosselló's ouster. Hurricane Maria in 2017 killed at least 2,975 people, making it the deadliest U.S.-based natural disaster in 100 years.

The chat's content also raised questions about possible conflicts of interest and violations of the law.

Among the most active chat members were Luis Rivera Marín, who at the time was Rosselló’s secretary of state; Christian Sobrino, who held a series of economic posts; Alfonso Orona, Rosselló’s former chief legal officer; Ramón Rosario, former public affairs secretary; Raúl Maldonado, former chief financial officer; one-time communications aides Carlos Bermúdez and Rafael Cerame; Edwin Miranda, a communications consultant; Ricardo Llerandi, who was Rosselló's interior secretary; Anthony Maceira, who used to be Rosselló's public affairs secretary; and Elías Sánchez, a lobbyist and Rosselló’s former campaign director.

Puerto Rico's DOJ also called for Rosselló's former press secretary, Yennifer Álvarez, and his former director of communications, Rossy Santiago, both of whom were not on the chats, to be included in the investigation.

Longo Quiñones said the preliminary investigation was conducted by prosecutors and officials at the island's DOJ as well as the Department of Public Safety.

"They examined the contents of the group chat, and as part of the investigation, they issued 45 citations to multiple witnesses and over 60 subpoenas to secure documents and information," she said in her release in Spanish. "In the course of these appointments, participants were asked to show up and deliver their cellphones for registration."

Sánchez and Miranda were the only two who breached DOJ's order and refused to hand in their phones, Longo Quiñones said. The matter is currently in court.

In the chat, politicians also shared confidential government information with people who were not public officials.

According to a CPI investigation, messages in the chat point to an alleged multibillion-dollar corruption network between some participants as well as misuse of public resources to do partisan work.

CPI's investigation alleges Rosselló was aware that Sánchez, Miranda and Bermúdez were giving preference to companies that Sánchez had lobbied for and granting them government contracts — some of which were funded with federal money.

"The Department of Justice has fully complied with its responsibility to complete a preliminary investigation that allows the Office of Independent Special Prosecutors to use its own criteria to determine whether they will accept the recommendation," said Longo Quiñones, adding that, if the order is accepted, it would be up to the Office of Independent Special Prosecutors to conduct an investigation that could determine formal charges.

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