NUESTRO Fiscaliza

NUESTRO sues Puerto Rico Department of Justice & OPFEI to obtain referrals with criminal allegations against Wanda Vázquez and Gov. officials

Independent and alternative media journalists filed a judicial Writ of Mandamus to request the immediate release of the six (6) referrals that the Puerto Rico Department of Justice (PRDOJ) delivered to the Panel Office on the Special Independent Prosecutor Panel (OPFEI, Spanish acronym) involving the Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, Senator Evelyn Vázquez and other officials who are or were part of this administration.

This extraordinary petition is in response to the fact that the PRDOJ has refused to deliver the six referrals, of which one of these was leaked to news outlets in recent days. In this referral, the existence of criminal charges against the governor is confirmed. The information leak has had the effect of creating an atmosphere of confusion in the public opinion, since the claims of the PRDOJ and the OPFEI have been repeated in multiple spaces to grant a cloak of secrecy to documents with a presumption of total publicity, based on the Constitution of Puerto Rico and the current legal order.

The referrals, which were finally delivered on July 7, 2020, are not part of the evidence gathered by the PRDOJ, which is confidential. Through the lawsuit, the final conclusions are being requested, not the private information that led to the delivery of the investigations carried out by the law and order agency. The ongoing investigation by the OPFEI is also not requested, since it has not commenced.

“Given the high public interest involved in this controversy, an agile and quick solution is required because the people’s right to know the truth is at stake,” said attorney Edgar Villanueva Rivera in the claim.

The mandamus petition was filed before the Court of First Instance in San Juan by the digital media outlet NUESTRO, represented by journalist Rafelli González, and Sandra Rodríguez Cotto, from the radio program and blog “En Blanco y Negro con Sandra.”

On July 7, these journalists, alongside with Emmanuel Estrada López from the alternative media ONCE, requested the PRDOJ referrals under Article 5 of Act 141-2019, which is the “Transparency Law and Expedited Procedure for Access to Public Information”.

On January 27, the then Secretary of Justice, Denisse Longo Quiñones notified OPFEI that she was evaluating a complaint filed about public officials. Then, on March 11, Longo Quiñones sent a communication informing the OPFEI that he had referred a complaint to the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Division, with instructions that an investigation be carried out against Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, among other officials.

Then, on July 6, an agent from the Dept. of Justice arrived to the OPFEI to file six referrals along with the documentation relevant to their investigations, including at least one referral to the Governor.

The then Interim Secretary of Justice stated that she had ordered the removal of the referrals before they were formally presented to the OPFEI. As a consequence of these events, on the same date of July 6, 2020, journalists sent the formal request for information under Article 7 of Act 141-2019.

Specifically, the journalists requested a copy of: (1) the final report on the investigation of the Puerto Rico Department of Justice of the mismanagement of supplies in warehouse in Ponce and (2) Final reports on 5 investigations delegated to the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico.

On July 7, 2020, the OPFEI issued a press release titled “OPFEI PANEL ISSUES ENERGETIC RESOLUTION REQUIRING JUSTICE DELIVERY OF RECORDS” in which the resolution of this office is published, requesting the Dept. of Justice to deliver the “six reports whose physical delivery was aborted” on July 6, 2020.

In their press release “the OPFEI members established that after the preliminary investigation and countersigned by the Secretary of Justice, the only legal course of action was to deliver them without further delay.” Later that same day, the six (6) PRDOJ’s reports were formally presented to the OPFEI, pending delivery of the boxes with the related evidence for said investigations between July 8 to 13, 2020.

On July 20, 2020, 10 days after the request was issued, only a formal response was received from the PRDOJ through an email addressed to the petitioners. However, the request was expressly denied by the Dept. of Justice. OPFEI tacitly denied the request by not replying within the 10-day period established by law.

The PRDOJ alleged in their response that the reports “are of confidential matter” and “cannot be subject to inspection, examination, or disclosure while conducting the investigation.” However, the reports requested are the product of the investigation carried out and completed by the Dept. of Justice.

On July 21, one leaked referral was received by some press members. However, independent journalists demanded the official information about this referral as well as the five remaining investigations, because the citizens have the right to know the full truth about the events, which lacerates the integrity of their government.

NUESTRO Fiscaliza

Puerto Rico Department of Justice does not want us to see Wanda Vázquez and other officials’ referrals to the OPFEI

“[…] it is necessary to establish that, as provided by our legal system, neither the preliminary investigative report subscribed at the end of the investigation, nor the six (6) reports referred to in your communication and that were submitted to the attention of the OPFEI shall, at this stage, be disclosed to third parties.”

Miretza Díaz Rodríguez, Limarie Martínez Rivera y Aminda Colón Soto, Information Officers for the Department of Justice

Despite having concluded its investigative processes, the Puerto Rico Department of Justice (PRDOJ) refused to submit six referrals presented by the agency to the OPFEI (Spanish acronym for the Special Independent Prosecutor’s Panel’s Office) that were requested by NUESTRO in alliance with ONCE and the blog “En Blanco y Negro with Sandra.”

These final documents, which were requested by formal petition, enjoy a presumption of total publicity since they are of high public interest, since they could link officials and ex-officials of the administration of Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced in criminal conduct. According to information released by several general circulation newspapers, the First Executive is implicated in at least one of the PRDOJ’s final investigations, which deals with possible violations of the law through improper interventions in the delivery of food to the victims of the earthquakes that affected the southwest of the island in January 2020.

On July 6, the six referrals were taken to the OPFEI office, but before turning them in, the PRDOJ agent in charge of transferring them received a call with instructions to return them to the public agency. This event is also under investigation, even though the former acting secretary of Justice, attorney Wandymar Burgos Vargas, took full responsibility for what happened before presenting her resignation letter.

At 6:06 pm yesterday, Monday, NUESTRO received a copy of a document stamped with the OPFEI logo and signed by both its president, former judge Nydia Cotto Vives, and by former judge and member of the Panel, attorney Rubén Vélez Torres. The resolution dated July 20, 2020 refers to the Governor of Puerto Rico along with lawyer Antonio Luis Pabón Battle, Secretary of the Interior, attorney Surima Quiñones Súarez, former Administrator of the Family Socioeconomic Development Administration (ADSEF by its Spanish acronym), the Administrator of Operational Services of ADSEF, María Teresa Zayas Gierbolini and the legislator Evelyn Vázquez Nieves.

NUESTRO knew at 5:20 pm yesterday, Monday, that none of the PRDJ’s six referrals to OPFEI are about the warehouse full of supplies found by citizens in Ponce while thousands of Puerto Ricans suffered the consequences of the earthquakes at the beginning of the year.

“Within the term provided in Article 7 of Act 141-2019 known as the Transparency Act and Expedited Procedure for Access to Public Information (Act No. 141), we inform you that the investigation carried out by the Department of Justice on the handling of the supplies found in a warehouse in Ponce, although advanced, has not been completed. Consequently, contrary to what was expressed in the letter – in request for information – that motivates this response, it was not part of the investigation reports sent to the attention of the OPFEI on July 6, 2020,” reads in part the letter delivered via email to NUESTRO and journalists Sandra Rodríguez Cotto and the lawyer Emmanuel Estrada López.

PRDOJ remains “confused” with the law

In the opinion of lawyer Edgar Villanueva Rivera, who is currently examining the legal course to follow to obtain public information, pretending that they are talking about investigations in progress or preliminary is misleading and confusing, since these are final documents that group findings validated with the signature of the former Secretary of Justice, lawyer Dennise Longo Quiñones along with three prosecutors.

“The arguments outlined by Justice are totally wrong and misleading. For a report to exist, a full investigation must occur. This is simple, Justice cannot make a referral to the OPFEI panel based on a preliminary, inconclusive, or ongoing investigation,” said the lawyer.

Specifically, the PRDJ used the same legal strategies that gave it two defeats before judge of the Extraordinary Claims Chamber of the Court of First Instance in San Juan, Lauracelis Roques Arroyo and the Court of Appeals on the delivery of the report of the mismanagement of supplies in the Ponce warehouse commissioned by Vázquez Garced to the Special Investigations Bureau (NIE, by its Spanish acronym). The judicial determinations in favor of the Puerto Rico Journalists Association (Asppro, by its Spanish acronym) and the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, by its Spanish acronym) forced the State to deliver the NIE report on March 13, two days before the first curfew and total closure of businesses in Puerto Rico as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is nothing under the law and the applicable constitutional precepts in conjunction with the State’s supposed public policy on transparency that indicates that what journalists requested is confidential under the standards established in our legal system. This is not an ongoing investigation. What the Department of Justice did in its report that the OPFEI now has is the result of a completed investigation, so it must be information accessible to the public. What is happening right now at the OPFEI is another matter that is ongoing and is not what the journalists have requested,” the lawyer concluded.

OPFEI breaks its silence

As a result of public pressure exerted by citizens, the press and the president of the Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz through their social networks, the OPFEI revealed on its website details about the referral that implicate the Governor of Puerto Rico and five officials on violations to the Penal Code, the Government Ethics Act, and the Anti-Corruption Code for a New Puerto Rico, a basis for four independent final investigations.

“All investigations concur with the existence of evidence that could confirm investigations of law and regulation. The information and evidence in all these instances were sustained through interviews and documents. Possible infractions of state and federal laws. Specifically, at the state level, Art. 252 of the Penal Code and Article 4.2 of the Government Ethics Law and Article 4.2 of the Anti-Corruption Code for a New Puerto Rico. In addition, in the investigation of the PRDOJ retaliation is attributed because the Secretary of the Department of Family, attorney Glorimar Andújar, after dismissing a subordinate for acts contrary to the law, did not agree to reinstate the official as required by La Fortaleza.”

In their letter, they explain that would the Panel not exist, it would have been the Department of Justice itself that with its investigation “had already filed the allegations in an accusation,” therefore validating the PRDOJ’s referral to the OPFEI is a completed investigation.

“All information or document that originates, conserves or receives in any government agency, even if it is in the custody of a third party, is presumed to be public and must be accessible to the people and the press,” reads Article 3 (4) of the Transparency Act.