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Pictured: Puerto Rico ex-Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced
What began as a mysterious probe now implicates three top officials. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images.

International banker enveloped in Puerto Rican bribery scheme

The court ruling follows a months-long probe into a local Puerto Rican election in 2020 when then-governor Wanda Vázquez Garced campaigned for reelection.

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Venezuelan banker Julio Herrera Velutini pleaded not guilty in a Federal Puerto Rican court yesterday after a judge ordered his arrest on a $1 million secured bond over suspect transactions during a Puerto Rican gubernatorial campaign in 2019. 

The latest developments stem back to a quiet probe launched by federal authorities during the 2019 gubernatorial elections in Puerto Rico. Then-governor Wanda Vázquez Garced ran her reelection campaign of whom Herrera Velutini was a donor. 

When Puerto Rico’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions got wind of suspicious transactions in 2019 between the international banker and Vázquez’s campaign, the FBI launched a formal investigation, though no details arose until May 2022, when a spokesperson for federal authorities confirmed arrests were underway. 

The FBI arrested Vázquez on Aug. 4 on corruption charges as other names close to the campaign floated around the probe. Officials alleged that Vázquez’s campaign accepted donations in exchange for political favors — the dismissal of commissioner George Joyner — Herrera Velutini would have his pick for a new one. 

Around the same time, a grand jury imposed seven charges against Herrera Velutini, among them conspiracy, bribery, and honest services wire fraud. 

In a virtual hearing held on Aug. 31, Herrera Velutini pleaded not guilty. Because the case did not involve a violent crime, the court released the banker on bail. The plaintiffs asked for $2.5 million, while the banker’s legal team requested $500,000. Federal District Judge Giselle López Soler ultimately settled on a $1 million bond. 

Ahead of the trial, Judge Lopez Soler allowed the Venezuelan banker to live in New York under supervision, although he’ll also be able to travel to the United Kingdom for official business, subject to the court’s approval. 

However, Herrera didn’t act alone. Mark Rossini, an ex-FBI agent, collaborated with Herrera during the alleged bribery scheme. AP News reported Rossini paid $300,000 to political consultants to support Vazquez’s campaign. 

Rossini requested a stay in Spain while awaiting trial but was denied by the court, barring travels for medical treatments, which the court must also authorize. He was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond after pleading not guilty. 

Currently, the three actors have been the only ones accused of financial wrongdoing by the courts since the FBI began its investigation in 2019. 

The court has not set a trial date. 

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