After a forced recess, the corruption trial against the former representative of the New Progressive Party Maria Milagros “Tata” Charbonier Laureano and her husband, Orlando Montes Riveraresumes on Monday in the federal courtin Hato Reybut everything indicates that the process is in the final stretch.
The case took an unexpected turn on December 19, when the presiding judge of the federal court for the District of Puerto Rico, Raul Arias Marxuachreported a pause in the proceedings due to health problems of the judge Silvia Carreno Coll.
That same day, the defense of the co-accused confirmed to the press that, after a meeting, the trial was postponed to this Monday, January 8. In addition, Carreno Coll issued an order setting a “charge conference” between the parties for a day later, January 9, at 4:00 pm.
In a telephone interview with The new dayGraduate Osvaldo Carlo Linares explained that “the ‘charge conference’ is nothing other than the instructions that will be given to the jury at the time they are going to deliberate.”
The former federal prosecutor specified that the “charge conference” is always held before the case is submitted. “You do not wait for the case to be closed and all the evidence of both parties to be passed to hold the ‘charge conference’,” added the lawyer, who specified that the process can take hours or a day.
“It does not mean that the trial is going to end. The judge holds it (the ‘charge conference’) already when the case is advanced. “It is a very important process for both parties, because the defense wants these instructions to be the most beneficial for them and the Prosecutor’s Office, too,” held.
Carlo Linares highlighted that, in recent years, the “charge conference” has had a peculiarity and that is that “There is always a discussion of whether it is going to be done before or after the final arguments are made.”
“Many times, lawyers, and even the government itself, have joined the argument that it be done before the case is argued before the jury, so that the jury knows and is clearer about what is being argued and how.” They must interpret it,” he stressed.
Both Charbonier Laureano and her husband, her son, Orlando Montes Charbonierand his then employee, Frances Acevedo Ceballoswere arrested by federal authorities in the early morning of August 17, 2020, after an indictment was issued with 13 charges related to bribery and robbery conspiracy.
However, Acevedo Ceballos pleaded guilty to the scheme on November 7, 2023. Meanwhile, on November 30, 2023, Francisco Rebollo, Charbonier Laureano’s lawyer, revealed that Montes Charbonier will not face trial after availing himself of a diversion process.
Thus, the trial against Charbonier Laureano and Montes Rivera began on December 11, 2023 with the selection of the jury, a process for which 74 candidates were summoned. After hours of interrogation, the number was reduced to 12 members – nine women and three men – and four substitutes.
According to the federal accusation, Charbonier Laureano inflated Acevedo Ceballos’s salary, so that she would allegedly pay him commissions periodically. Thus, Acevedo Ceballos kept part of the check and gave an alleged commission of between $1,000 and $1,500 to Charbonier Laureano.
“Acevedo would sometimes transfer the kickbacks to Person A, Person B, or another individual, who could then provide the funds to Charbonier,” reads the indictment issued by a federal grand jury.
The document also indicates that the payments were sometimes direct to the former legislator and, sometimes, through Montes Rivera and her son. In fact, the Prosecutor’s Office estimated that Charbonier Laureano received $100,000 during the period of the alleged conspiracy, from September 2017 to 2020.
The parade of witnesses
To prove this alleged bribery and conspiracy scheme, The Prosecutor’s Office presented 12 witnesses during the first seven days of the trial, and it came to light that Acevedo Ceballos started earning about $1,600 a month, on January 2, 2013, when he started working at the House of Representativesbut received increases that raised his pay to $8,000 per month until the first months of 2020.
In total, the employee had 15 changes to her salary, including increases and reductions.
Karen Torreswho served as director of the House Human Resources Office between 2017 and 2020, said that “It is not usual for a receptionist secretary to earn that salary.”
Besides, Andrew Waltzspecial agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI, in English) and who was the last witness to testify for the Prosecutor’s Office, revealed that it was Jonathan Alemanformer director of Charbonier Laureano’s legislative office, who referred the former representative to the authorities.
Precisely, the trial is expected to resume on Monday with the defense’s cross-examination of Waltz.
Throughout the judicial process, there have been many testimonies that have given us something to talk about, one of them being Sheila Mangualformer director of Charbonier Laureano’s legislative office, who assured that the former representative confessed to her that she received money from Acevedo Ceballos’ salary.
Asked if she knew why Acevedo Ceballos’ salary was $8,000 a month when she was working as a receptionist in Charbonier Laureano’s legislative office, Mangual responded: “The representative (Charbonier) told me that Frances’ salary was because it covered a debt she had in the IRS (Internal rents service)”.
Precisely, the FBI agent Shannon Muldrowanother of the witnesses who has testified on behalf of the Prosecutor’s Office, said in court that, during the search of the former representative’s residence, evidence was found that she had debts with federal agencies.
The evidence presented revealed that the co-defendants’ debts to the Federal Department of Education for student loan and the IRS They were around $265,000.according to letters presented by the Prosecutor’s Office.
Another controversial testimony was that of Roxana Sifre Maldonadoex-wife of the convicted mayor of Catano Felix “el Cano” Delgadowho assured that he was aware that Acevedo Ceballos He gave “money” to the former representative.
“One day, Frances was doing some work at the Treasury Department and was upset because she had a high debt because she had a high salary. She told me that she had that salary to be able to give Tata (Charbonier Laureano) that salary. She was sad and upset”, said Sifre Maldonado, in his testimony.
Although it is alleged that Acevedo Ceballos made payments of approximately $1,000 to $1,500 biweekly to Charbonier Laureano, these figures do not appear in the financial reports that the former representative presented to the Office of Government Ethics (OEG).
According to the assistant director of the financial reporting audit area of the OEG, Hector Blaudell VieraCharbonier Laureano did not report additional income to his salary as representative, such as gifts, donations or cash, in his financial reports.