Ex-Director of Technical Education Program, Contractor, and Company Plead Guilty to Theft of over $200,000 from the Puerto Rico Department of Education
SAN JUAN, P.R. – On December 14, 2023, the Federal Grand Jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned a 20-count indictment charging four individuals with Conspiracy to Commit Bribery Concerning Program Receiving Federal Funds, Paying and Receiving Bribes, and Honest Services Wire Fraud , announced W. Stephen Muldrow, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (HSI) with the assistance of the Puerto Rico Department of Treasury (Hacienda), the Puerto Rico Police Bureau (PRPB), and the Puerto Rico Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, defendant Ariel Pintado-Montalvo made repeated bribe payments to Hacienda employees in exchange for the approval of fraudulent vehicle excise-tax Declarations and for quick approval of non-fraudulent vehicle excise-tax Declarations. During the span of the conspiracy, Pintado-Montalvo paid thousands of dollars in bribe payments to Antonio Silva-Rodríguez, Héctor Vázquez-Barroso, and Doris Bonilla-Valle, who each utilized their position as employees of Hacienda to approve fraudulent and non-fraudulent vehicle excise-tax Declarations in exchange for bribe payments.
The Sistema Unificado de Rentas Internas (SURI) was Hacienda’s digital platform which was used to administer and collect vehicle excise-taxes on imported vehicles. Entry documents notifying the vehicle’s arrival, known as the Declaration, which contained the vehicle-identification number (VIN), were required. If the Declaration was complete and it contained the motor vehicle’s correct VIN, SURI would automatically calculate the excise tax based on the current Black Book value of the motor vehicle. Once the excise-tax was approved by Hacienda employees and paid, the vehicle would be released, and it would be free to move from the port. If the VIN was inputted incorrectly into SURI, whoever was completing the Declaration would be able to input what they believed to be the fair-market value of the vehicle. This situation triggered the requirement that a PRDT employee review the Declaration to ensure the correct amount of excise tax was collected.
According to court documents, defendant Ariel Pintado-Montalvo, who was in the business of importing motor vehicles into Puerto Rico as a “gestor” (someone who did the paperwork and helped managed part of the process of importing motor vehicles into PR), paid cash bribes and ATH Móvil payments to Hacienda employees. In exchange for the bribes, Antonio Silva-Rodríguez, Héctor Vázquez-Barroso, and Doris Bonilla-Valle approved fraudulent Declarations that resulted in a decrease in excise tax paid by Pintado-Montalvo and a loss of revenue for Hacienda. Additionally, in exchange for bribe payments, Silva-Rodríguez, Vázquez-Barroso, and Bonilla-Valle used their Hacienda positions to quickly approve non-fraudulent Declarations.
With regards to the fraudulent Declarations, these Hacienda employees agreed that an incorrect VIN number would be imputed into SURI to trigger the review of the Declaration. Then, Pintado-Montalvo would notify one of co-defendants at Hacienda when a fraudulent Declaration was ready for approval by providing the Declaration’s number via WhatsApp. Soon after, Silva-Rodríguez, Vázquez-Barroso, or Bonilla-Valle approved the fraudulent Declaration and notified Pintado-Montalvo via WhatsApp.
Likewise, Pintado-Montalvo sent the number for the non-fraudulent Declaration that needed quick approval via WhatsApp. Silva-Rodríguez, Vázquez-Barroso, or Bonilla-Valle then notified Pintado-Montalvo when it was approved. Pintado-Montalvo would then proceed to coordinate and make the bribe payments in cash or via ATH Móvil in batches.
“Together with our law enforcement partners, our office will continue to aggressively pursue corrupt individuals in the government who take advantage of the system to benefit a few in exchange for bribes,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow. “This prosecution serves as a warning to other public employees involved in these types of schemes that they will be investigated and prosecuted, and that such violations will not be tolerated.”
“Corruption is a complex problem with a variety of causes and no simple solution. This is why attacking this threat at all levels and having a zero-tolerance posture is necessary in order to have a real impact,” said Joseph González, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI San Juan Field Office. “The FBI has been at the frontlines in the fight against corruption in Puerto Rico and I think the message is clear - if you are a public official, using your public office for personal gain, we will come after you and you will face Justice. I thank our partners at the US Attorney’s Office, HSI, the Puerto Rico Treasury Department (Hacienda), for their continued support to the FBI mission.”
“The defendants in this case used their position of trust as government employees to develop a scheme impacting Puerto Rico’s economy,” said Rebecca González-Ramos, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Homeland Security, San Juan. “Money that goes directly to our citizens for enhancements in our island, to our public servers, our schools, and our roads, were not collected in exchange for personal gain. These employees defrauded the trust of the people of Puerto Rico. HSI will continue to investigate the financial crimes that negatively impact the infrastructure of the United States and its territories, most importantly those that abuse their position to commit these crimes.”
“Today’s arrests are in part, the culmination of a collaborative effort between the FBI and the Puerto Rico Treasury Department,” said Francisco Parés-Alicea, Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Treasury (Hacienda). “In 2021 I shared data identified through our new information systems regarding potential fraud in the introduction of vehicles in the island. Although this incident is very unfortunate, we reiterate our unwavering commitment in fighting these reprehensible acts regardless of where they come from.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Victor O. Acevedo-Hernández is prosecuting the case.
The indictments contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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