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Julia Keleher was Puerto Rico's Education Secretary from 2017 to 2019. Photo: Getty Images.

Former Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Pleads Guilty to Fraud Conspiracy

Julia Keleher has pleaded guilty to two federal fraud conspiracy charges following her time as the island’s top education official during the late 2010s.

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The former Secretary of Education of Puerto Rico, Julia Keleher, has pleaded guilty to two federal fraud conspiracy charges. The charges come two years after the politician’s term as the island’s top K-12 official from 2017-2019.

Keleher assumed the role of education secretary in January of 2017. She remained in the position until April of 2019. In the Fall of 2017, Keleher was involved in a humanitarian crisis concerning Hurricane Maria’s aftermath and shortcomings in the public education system.

In June 2021, Keleher pleaded guilty to two federal fraud conspiracy charges for crimes committed during her term. Keleher has secured a felony plea bargain with prosecutors: a move that will potentially help her avoid maximum jail time.

The former Secretary of Education has agreed to admit guilt on two counts: one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and an additional count to commit honest services wire fraud during a meeting Keleher attended virtually. 

Keleher may face six months federal prison time, if courts agree to sentencing recommendations, followed by one year of house confinement. A recommended fine of $21,000 may also be implemented. 

During her term, Keleher received an approximate salary of $250,000.

These developments come just about two weeks after Keleher filed a motion to change her plea, marking a likely deal between the disgraced politician and the federal government.

Keleher led education initiatives on the island amid struggling efforts during her 2017-19 term. Challenges included delayed infrastructure reconstruction after hurricane and earthquake devastation, increased poverty among students, a need for special education services, and high dropout rates.

When Keleher exited the position in 2019, the politician cited a lack of confidence in her own leadership. 

“It was the moment,” she told El Nuevo Día.

Three months after her departure, the former Secretary of Education was indicted on charges of wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy in a scheme to use “fraudulently obtained” public contracts to steal federal money (with multiple officials and associates acting as accomplices), and conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States.

The superseding indictment accused Keleher of 24 counts, including aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, and wire fraud conspiracy and bribery.

On June 2 Keleher signed a plea agreement — which admitted her offering of a strip of land to widen a street — in exchange for the opportunity to rent an upscale apartment in the Santurce neighborhood for just $1. It was also planned that Keleher receive a $12,000 incentive to purchase a unit in the building at some future point in time.

If the court accepts a deal with prosecutors, the remaining charges not resolved will be dropped, as per the plea agreement. Keleher will be allowed the chance to withdraw her guilty plea if the court rejects the negotiated deal.

The sentencing hearing is scheduled for September.

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