Julio Herrera Velutini, seen here with Luciano (Source: House of Herrera)
Defence Team of Wanda Vázquez requests court to dismiss charges against her
The former governor is the first defendant in her case to argue the legal insufficiency of the charges brought against her for alleged bribery. The defence of Wanda Vázquez Garced filed a motion before the federal court in San Juan requesting the dismissal of three charges against the former governor.
London | 12:22 PM
02 May 2023
The defence of Wanda Vázquez Garced filed a motion before the Federal Court in San Juan requesting the dismissal of three charges against the former governor.
Vázquez's lawyers submitted a Memorandum of Law arguing that the federal prosecution has failed to present explicit evidence of a quid pro quo.
Former Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced requested the dismissal of federal charges against her, arguing that they fail to indicate that she knew that banker Julio Herrera Velutini was taking actions to benefit her politically in exchange for her performing official acts at the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions (OCIF).
With her motion yesterday, she becomes the first of the three defendants in this alleged bribery scheme to ask Federal Judge Raúl Arias Marxuach to make a decision that could resolve the case without going to trial.
The arguments put forth by the former governor's lawyers to support the dismissal revolve around the doctrines of the federal Supreme Court regarding allegations of public corruption like "quid pro quo," a term that describes when an official accepts or refuses to perform an official act in exchange for something of value.
To challenge the indictment, the lawyers acknowledge that there was a "this" and a "that" but argue that the prosecution did not establish the "because." They accept that Herrera Velutini expressed his intention to support Vázquez Garced's primary campaign against Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and took actions in that direction, which would be the "this." They also accept a "that" because Vázquez Garced removed Commissioner George Joyner Kelly from OCIF and appointed his replacement, Víctor Rodríguez Bonilla. However, they focus on arguing that the indictment does not establish the "because," or in other words, it does not establish Vázquez Garced's knowledge of the banker's actions or that her decisions regarding OCIF were in response to an explicit agreement with him.
The indictment, supervised by the Federal Department of Justice in Washington DC, mentions Vázquez Garced 14 times in meetings or direct communications with the co-defendant or the cooperators. It describes a scheme in which Herrera Velutini wanted to stop OCIF investigations into his bank, Bancrédito International Bank & Trust, and offered political and financial support to Vázquez Garced in exchange for her first removing the then head of the banking regulator and second appointing the commissioner that the banker desired. When Pierluisi Urrutia came into power, the banker allegedly offered him economic support to fulfil his desires regarding OCIF and the investigation into his bank.
According to the defence attorneys, Supreme Court jurisprudence requires the indictment to specify an agreement between the official and the banker. A similar argument was made, without success thus far, by former Mayor of Guaynabo Ángel Pérez Otero, who was convicted. However, the motion highlights that in that case, the indictment did not state that the corrupt money received by the former mayor was political donations, whereas, in the former governor's case, it is alleged that the illegal benefit she received was for her political campaign purposes. According to the lawyers, this difference requires the prosecution to specify that there was an explicit agreement between their client and the banker.
When this type of motion is filed to dismiss charges due to legal insufficiency, the attorneys' arguments are strictly limited to the language of the indictment. However, in this case, the prosecution has already disclosed evidence, so the defence attorneys must also be aware of the main testimonies the government would present to the jury if the case were to proceed. It is confirmed that one of the cooperators is John Blakeman Ortiz, a former Senate contractor and former member of Vázquez Garced's primary.
"For the reasons stated in the attached Memorandum of Law in support of the pre-trial Motion to dismiss the indictment, Wanda Vázquez Garced respectfully files this motion for the dismissal of the First, Third, and Fourth charges of the indictment," reads the motion from attorneys Ignacio Fernández de Lahongrais, Luis A. Plaza-Mariota, and Peter John Porrata.
Referring to the fact that the three charges against Vázquez-Garced are dependent on the government's central allegation of a bribery scheme involving the former governor and co-defendant Julio Herrera Velutini, the defence asserts that the United States government has not alleged any quid pro quo, "much less an explicit quid pro quo."
They argue to the court that the charges should be dismissed per McCormick v. United States, supra, "as other courts have done at the indictment stage in cases where the government's attempt otherwise to criminalize protected campaign activity under the First Amendment falls short; even in cases where the allegations of a quid pro quo were much stronger than they are here. We respectfully propose that this case be dismissed given the fatal deficiencies of the charges in the indictment."
The defence also warns of adverse effects they believe the case against Vázquez Garced would have. "The position taken by the Government is so aggressive that if allowed to continue, it would effectively criminalise, and certainly chill, the types of legal interactions between our elected officials and their constituents that occur every day in this country, and that allow the privately funded campaign financing system in this country to function as intended," the Memorandum adds.
Vázquez Garced was charged in August of last year with receiving bribes concerning her 2020 gubernatorial campaign. She faces charges of conspiracy, bribery involving federal programs, and honest services wire fraud.
President Trump thanked the Puerto Rican governor for endorsing him in the 2020 presidential election in a tweet Thursday night, claiming the governor is “the best thing” to happen to the island.
“Great honor to have the endorsement of the Governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vázquez Garced. As I have always said, Donald J. Trump is the best thing to ever happen to the people of Puerto Rico,” Trump wrote in the message.
“The drug manufacturers are now coming back. Biden ended that program!” he added.
Last month, Trump promised Puerto Rico $13 billion in federal funds to rebuild schools and the island’s electrical grid after that was damaged in Hurricane Maria.
Garced, who is a Republican, endorsed Trump in a Telemundo interview earlier this week, urging residents of the island to vote for the president.
The federal prosecution accuses the former governor of a bribery scheme involving several individuals, including Julio Martín Herrera Velutini, Frances Díaz, Mark Rossini, and John Blakeman, to finance her electoral campaign for the governorship.
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