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Puerto Rican legislator, husband jailed for theft

May 19, 2024

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, CMC – The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) says a legislator and her husband, both from Puerto Rico, were sentenced on Friday for engaging in a multi-year theft, bribery and kickback conspiracy scheme to fraudulently inflate the salary of a legislative assistant in exchange for a portion of the assistant’s inflated salary.

The DOJ said María Milagros Charbonier-Laureano, also known as Tata, a member of the  House of Representatives here, was sentenced to eight years in prison. Her husband, Orlando Montes-Rivera, was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison. 

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, from early 2017 until July 2020, Charbonier-Laureano, her husband, and her assistant, Frances Acevedo-Ceballos, executed a scheme to defraud the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico by engaging in a theft, bribery and kickback scheme. 

Over the course of the scheme, the DOJ said Charbonier-Laureano inflated Acevedo-Ceballos’ salary from US$800 on a bi-weekly, after-tax basis to nearly US$2,900. 

“Out of every inflated paycheck, it was agreed that Acevedo-Ceballos would keep a portion and kick back approximately US$1,500 to Charbonier-Laureano and Montes-Rivera,” the DOJ said. 

“After learning of the investigation into illegal activities in her office and of a warrant that had been obtained for one of her phones, Charbonier-Laureano proceeded to delete certain data on the phone,” it added. “In particular, Charbonier-Laureano deleted nearly all call log entries, WhatsApp messages and iMessages associated with the phone.” 

The DOJ said the jury convicted Charbonier-Laureano and Montes-Rivera in January of one count of conspiracy; two counts of theft, bribery and kickbacks concerning programs receiving federal funds; six counts of honest services wire fraud; and two counts of money laundering.

The jury also convicted Charbonier-Laureano of obstruction of justice for destroying data on her cell phone, the DOJ said. 

It said Acevedo-Ceballos, who pleaded guilty to bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, was sentenced in February to three years and one month in prison.

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