Thursday, January 22, 2015

Corruption: Puerto Rico - Judge guilty of accepting bribes in exchange for acquitting businessman

U.S. Department of Justice 
Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON—A current Puerto Rico Superior Court Judge was convicted yesterday by a federal jury in Puerto Rico of accepting bribes to acquit a businessman of vehicular homicide charges.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico and Special Agent in Charge Carlos Cases of the FBI’s San Juan Division made the announcement.

“Judicial corruption strikes at the very heart of our legal system,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “Justice must be determined by the evidence and the law, not by bribe payments from those with the deepest pockets. We are committed to maintaining the public’s trust by rooting out corruption wherever we find it—whether it be a politician in a backroom or a judge on the bench.”

“This conviction should serve to restore the public’s trust in the fairness of the judicial system,” said U.S. Attorney Rodríguez-Vélez. “We hope that the jury’s verdict brings some closure to the family of Félix Babilonia. I congratulate the prosecutors and the agents whose hard work and dedication brought about Acevedo-Hernández’s conviction.”

“Justice is for all the people, not for a select few who use money and power to buy favorable verdicts,” said Special Agent in Charge Cases. “The San Juan Division of the FBI is committed to continue investigating corruption at all levels in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.”

Puerto Rico Superior Court Judge Manuel Acevedo-Hernandez, 62, was convicted late yesterday following a one-week trial of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery and receipt of a bribe by an agent of an organization receiving federal funds. Sentencing is scheduled for April 20, 2015, before Chief U.S. District Judge Aida Delgado-Colon of the District of Puerto Rico.

According to evidence at trial, Acevedo-Hernandez presided over a case involving Lutgardo Acevedo-Lopez, 39, a certified public accountant in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. On June 30, 2012, a car driven by Acevedo-Lopez collided with another car, resulting in the death of the other car’s driver. Acevedo-Lopez was charged with criminal vehicular homicide in connection with the incident. Acevedo-Hernandez, a supervisory superior court judge in the Aguadilla judicial region of Puerto Rico, acquitted Acevedo-Lopez of all charges.

The evidence demonstrated that Acevedo-Lopez used an intermediary to bribe Acevedo-Hernandez by paying taxes owed by Acevedo-Hernandez, paying for the construction of a garage for Acevedo-Hernandez, and providing Acevedo-Hernandez with a motorcycle, clothing and accessories, including cufflinks and a watch. In exchange, Acevedo-Hernandez acquitted Acevedo-Lopez of all charges.

Acevedo-Lopez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery and paying a bribe to an agent of an organization receiving federal funds on Aug. 14, 2014.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s San Juan Division and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Peter Mason of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy Henwood and Jose Capo of the District of Puerto Rico.

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