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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Puerto Rico

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 8, 2014

Elba I. Bonilla-Bayon Indicted And Arrested For Theft Of Government Property

SAN JUAN, P.R. – Yesterday, May 7, a Federal grand jury returned a 175 count-indictment against Elba I. Bonilla-Bayón for theft of government property, concealment of bankruptcy assets, student assistance program fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.  The defendant is facing a forfeiture allegation of $1,429,873.00.

According to the indictment, from on or about January, 2010 through on or about December 2012, the defendant wilfully and knowingly stole and purloined goods of the United States, that is, funds from Head Start / Early Head Start Programs; Child Care Development Fund Program; Child and Adult Care Food Program; and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, property of the United States of the value of $1,429,873.00, in checks ranging from $1,000 to $37,000, which said property had come into the possession and under the care of Elba I. Bonilla-Bayón by virtue of her employment as a President and Chairman of the Board for Programa Avance en Puerto Rico, grantee and delegated agency of  United States Department of Health and Human Services (Head Start, Early Head Start and Child Care Development Fund Program) and the United States Department of Agriculture (Child and Adult Care Food Program).

Bonilla-Bayón operated and administered 49 Head Start / Early Head Start centers in the municipalities of Loíza, Canóvanas, Río Grande and Luquillo that served 1,318 children. From in or around January 2010, continuing through in or around December, 2012 the defendant through Programa Avance en Puerto Rico, opened approximately 35 bank accounts at Westernbank, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, Banco Santander and Cooperativa de Ahorro y Crédito Metodistas Unidos de Puerto Rico. She received approximately $30,800,178.45 in federal funds from multiple federal agency programs, including but not limited to Head Start Program, Early Head Start Program, Child Care Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

During the scheme, Bonilla-Bayón through Programa Avance en Puerto Rico began receiving funds under the CACFP for reimbursement of the meals and snacks it was purportedly providing to children in its programs. From that time until in or around December 2012, Avance received a total of approximately $549,736.28 as a direct result of monthly records the defendant signed and provided to the Puerto Rico Department of Education.

Also, according to the indictment, on or about September 25, 2010, Bonilla-Bayón opened an account at the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino and was approved a credit line of up to $30,000.00 as a local player. The majority of the funds stolen by the defendant were spent by her at the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino.

In addition to the scheme purported by the defendant, Bonilla-Bayón filed for bankruptcy under the provisions of Chapter 11 at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Puerto Rico. The defendant, knowingly and fraudulently concealed property belonging to Programa Avance en Puerto Rico, specifically a Child and Adult Care Food Program (USDA) check payment of $99,307.03, from the trustee charged with control of the debtor’s property, from the creditors and the United States Trustee.

The defendant herein knowingly engaged and attempted to engage in monetary transactions affecting interstate and foreign commerce in criminally derived property of a value greater than $10,000, such property having been derived from the specified unlawful activity of Concealment of Bankruptcy Assets. Specifically, the indictment details at least four payments ranging from $13,000 to $18,000 Bonilla-Bayón made to the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino with the money concealed from the United States Trustee.

The aggravated identity theft charges relate to monthly reports submitted by Bonilla-Bayón to the Puerto Rico Family Department in order to receive the funds using the identity of the Head Start Program participants as she knowingly possessed, used, and transferred without lawful authority, a means of identification of the Head Start Program beneficiaries (Name, Date of Birth and Family ID) in connection to the theft of government funds.

The Student Financial Aid Fraud charge relates to the fact that the defendant did knowingly and willfully fail to refund $13,185.50, as required by federal regulation, to the United States Department of Education. These funds were received as Pell grant moneys for students at Centro de Capacitación y Asesoramiento Vetelba, Inc. who did not complete their course of study or were otherwise not entitled to Pell grants.

“The defendant took advantage of her managerial position in Programa Avance en Puerto Rico and stole directly from the government of the United States, money that was intended to be used for children’s education and development,” said United States Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez.  “The vast majority of government employees are hardworking members of our community, but those who betray the trust and use their position for personal gain should know that they will be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

“I am proud to be part of the Federal team that brought Elba Bonilla to justice,” said Tom O’Donnell, Special Agent in Charge of Health and Human Services OIG (HHS/OIG). “Greed, at the expense of valuable HHS Head Start Grant funds, will not be tolerated.  These funds are needed to nurture low-income children and their families.  I would like to thank HHS/OIG’s Office of Audit Services for their expertise in the audit of Programa Avance, and for providing significant support during the investigation.”
“The defendant’s criminal activities remind the public that fraud against the United States government remains an ongoing problem in our country,” said Carlos Cases, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI, San Juan Field Office.  “The FBI and our law enforcement partners are committed to preventing and prosecuting fraud against the government at all levels.”

This case was investigated by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (Investigations / Audit Services), with the collaboration of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, the US Trustee Office, and the US Department of Education, Office of Inspector General.

The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wallace A. Bustelo and Pedro R. Casablanca.  If found guilty, the defendant could face a possible sentence of 10 years in prison for theft of government property and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived of specific unlawful activity, five years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.00 for the concealment of bankruptcy assets, and two additional years for each aggravated identity theft count.  A criminal indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt.  Defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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Updated April 14, 2015