Former Puerto Rico Legislator and Two Capitol Employees Plead Guilty to Bribery and Kickback Scheme
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A former Puerto Rico legislator and two employees who worked in his office pleaded guilty this week to engaging in a bribery and kickback scheme.
Nelson Del Valle Colón, 56, of Dorado, Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Silvia Carreño-Coll to one count of federal program bribery. Mildred Estrada-Rojas, 55, of Bayamón, Puerto Rico, and her daughter, Nickolle Santos-Estrada, 32, also of Bayamón, Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty yesterday before Judge Carreño-Coll, each to one count of federal program bribery.
“We will continue to prosecute public officials whose conduct undermines the public’s trust in the government,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico. “Public corruption destroys the trust we have in our elected officials, which is essential for democracy to thrive. Now the defendants will be held accountable for violating one of the basic tenets of public trust, that is, serving their constituents with integrity and honesty.”
“Public corruption investigations require hard work and dedication. They take time to complete, because they are sensitive and complex in nature,” said Joseph González, Special Agent in Charge of The FBI San Juan Field Office. “Today’s result is another example of how our steadfast commitment to doing the right thing, the right way pays dividends in justice to the people of Puerto Rico. Special thanks to the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, for their continued support to the FBI mission.”
According to court documents, Del Valle Colón was elected to be a member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives in 2016. He thereafter hired Estrada and Santos to work in his legislative office. In exchange for their employment and their salaries, however, Estrada and Santos paid biweekly kickbacks to Del Valle Colón of between approximately $500 and $1,300 from early 2017 until July 2020.
According to admissions made in connection with their pleas, Del Valle Colón, Estrada, and Santos admitted that they paid and he received the biweekly kickbacks in a variety of ways. Estrada and Santos generally paid their biweekly cash kickbacks in an envelope that they provided to Del Valle Colón in an office in the Capitol Building in Old San Juan. Estrada sometimes paid her kickback to Del Valle Colón over ATH Móvil, a mobile phone cash transfer application. Another individual who worked for Del Valle Colón in his legislative office also agreed to pay Del Valle Colón biweekly cash kickbacks during this individual’s employment with Del Valle Colón.
Del Valle Colón is scheduled to be sentenced on June 30, and Estrada, and Santos on June 29, and each faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico, and Special Agent in Charge Joseph González of the FBI’s San Juan Field Office made the announcement.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s San Juan Field Office.
Trial Attorney Jonathan E. Jacobson of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Anderson from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico are prosecuting the case.