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Press Release

Puerto Rico Legislator and her Husband Sentenced for Theft, Bribery, and Kickback Scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON – A Puerto Rico legislator and her husband were sentenced today for engaging in a multi-year theft, bribery, and kickback conspiracy scheme to fraudulently inflate the salary of a legislative assistant in exchange for a portion of the assistant’s inflated salary.

María Milagros Charbonier-Laureano, also known as Tata, a member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, was sentenced to eight years in prison. Her husband, Orlando Montes-Rivera, was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, from early 2017 until July 2020, Charbonier-Laureano, her husband, and her assistant, Frances Acevedo-Ceballos, executed a scheme to defraud the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico by engaging in a theft, bribery, and kickback scheme. Over the course of the scheme, Charbonier-Laureano inflated Acevedo-Ceballos’ salary from $800 on a bi-weekly, after-tax basis to nearly $2,900. Out of every inflated paycheck, it was agreed that Acevedo-Ceballos would keep a portion and kick back approximately $1,500 to Charbonier-Laureano and Montes-Rivera.

After learning of the investigation into illegal activities in her office and of a warrant that had been obtained for one of her phones, Charbonier-Laureano proceeded to delete certain data on the phone. In particular, Charbonier-Laureano deleted nearly all call log entries, WhatsApp messages, and iMessages associated with the phone. 

The jury convicted Charbonier-Laureano and Montes-Rivera in January of one count of conspiracy; two counts of theft, bribery, and kickbacks concerning programs receiving federal funds; six counts of honest services wire fraud; and two counts of money laundering. The jury also convicted Charbonier-Laureano of obstruction of justice for destroying data on her cell phone. 

Acevedo-Ceballos, who pleaded guilty to bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, was sentenced in February to three years and one month in prison. 

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri, head 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 Gonzalez of the FBI San Juan Field Office made the announcement.

The FBI investigated the case.

Trial Attorneys Jonathan E. Jacobson and Kathryn E. Fifield of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney María L. Montañez Concepción for the District of Puerto Rico prosecuted the case.

Updated May 17, 2024

Public Corruption