Search warrants issued for phones in Puerto Rico chat scandal

The island's Department of Justice issued warrants for the cellphones of some of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló's close associates.

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By Nicole Acevedo

A day after more than half a million Puerto Ricans participated in a protest demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, the island's Justice Department confirmed to NBC News that it had issued search warrants to confiscate the cellphones of several people who participated in leaked private message chats with the governor.

The contents of the chats have triggered unprecedented mass protests and calls for Rosselló's ouster.

The warrants come a week after only a handful of members in the chat voluntarily surrendered their cellphones to Justice officials as part of an investigation into possible conflicts of interest and law violations stemming from the leaked messages.

Telemundo Puerto Rico initially reported on Tuesday that authorities had confiscated the phones of Luis Rivera Marín, Rosselló’s secretary of state; Christian Sobrino, who held a series of economic posts; Raúl Maldonado, former chief financial officer; one-time communications aides Carlos Bermúdez and Rafael Cerame; Edwin Miranda, a communications consultant; public affairs secretary Anthony Maceira; and Elías Sánchez, a lobbyist and Rosselló’s former campaign director.

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Mariana Cobián, a Justice Department spokesperson, could only confirm to NBC News that warrants were taking place, but stated that they could not provide more details because of it's an ongoing investigation.

The chats had 12 members, including Rosselló, who was one of the chat’s administrators.

No warrants were reportedly issued to seize Rosselló’s phone, who according to multiple local reports, had not complied with Justice Department requests last week.

Alfonso Orona, Rosselló’s former chief legal officer; Ramón Rosario, former public affairs secretary; and interior secretary and chief of staff Ricardo Llerandi complied last week with the Justice Department’s orders, according to Telemundo.

Justice officials launched the investigation shortly after the island's Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 pages of the chats showing public officials, lobbyists and others discussing public policy issues and party politics.

Days later, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez announced plans to recuse herself from participating in the investigation since she was a subject of conversation in the leaked chats.

After roughly a quarter of the Puerto Rican population took the streets to demand Rosselló's resignation on Monday, the governor released a statement on Tuesday saying, "The people are talking and I have to listen."

Rosselló then concluded his statement by saying his future public remarks would only focus on "the actions that we carry out as part of the government's work."

Hours later, Llerandi submitted his resignation effective July 31 to "allow for an orderly transition," he said in a letter addressed to Rosselló.

Both Sobrino and Rivera Marín's resignations, which were also submitted in the wake of the controversial chats, will be effective on the same date.

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