January 23, 2002

Corruption charges in Puerto Rico

                 SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A former Puerto Rican education secretary,
                 the Chamber of Commerce president and 15 others were charged in an
                 alleged scheme of stealing federal funds, extortion and money laundering,
                 U.S. prosecutors said Wednesday.

                 Victor Fajardo, who served as the U.S. territory's education secretary from 1996 to
                 2000, was arrested early Wednesday, as were nine others, prosecutors said.
                 Warrants had been issued for the arrest of the remaining six.

                 Among those arrested were Richard D'Acosta, president of Puerto Rico's Chamber
                 of Commerce, and Jose Omar Cruz, a former deputy education secretary under
                 Fajardo, said Acting U.S. Attorney Guillermo Gil Bonar.

                 Gil estimated the amount of U.S. funds diverted to Puerto Rican election campaigns
                 at more than $4 million, and said officials at the pro-statehood New Progressive
                 Party, in power at the time, had been involved.

                 Much of the money was supposed to go toward computers and computer training
                 for teachers, prosecutors said.

                 Lawyers for the accused were not immediately available for comment.

                 The list of those charged in indictments handed down by a federal grand jury
                 Tuesday includes other lower-level public officials. Many of the accused are
                 businesspeople who allegedly had contracts with the Caribbean island's Department
                 of Education.

                 One of them is Fajardo's sister-in-law, Maria Ramos Matos, who allegedly had
                 contracts with Fajardo's department.

                 Also among those facing federal charges is schools consultant Jesus Emilio Rivera
                 Class, who allegedly was involved in giving Fajardo more than $750,000 in bribes.
                 Rivera Class, who was arrested in Miami on Wednesday, was cooperating with
                 investigators and providing information in return for immunity from charges in
                 Puerto Rican courts, prosecutors said.

                 The case is the latest in a string of government corruption scandals in Puerto Ric o.

                 Angel Luis Ocasio Ramos, deputy chief of staff to then-Gov. Pedro Rossello during
                 the mid-1990s, was arrested in December on two counts of conspiracy to interfere
                 with commerce by extortion. Ocasio Ramos' lawyer, Daniel Lopez Romo, denied
                 his client has misused his public office.

                 Rossello, who supported statehood for the U.S. territory, stepped down in 2000.
                 His successor, Gov. Sila Calderon, opposes statehood and was elected in part by
                 voters who said they were fed up with growing corruption in Rossello's

                 In Rossello's last year in office, high-ranking administrators were convicted of
                 stealing $2.2 million meant for AIDS patients. The scandal rocked the government
                 and forced Rossello to take the stand to deny allegations that he accepted part of
                 the money.

                  Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.