WASHINGTON – A federal jury convicted a Puerto Rico legislator and her husband today for engaging in a years-long 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.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, from early 2017 until July 2020, María Milagros Charbonier-Laureano, aka Tata, a member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, along with her husband, Orlando Montes-Rivera, 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’s 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 between $1,000 and $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 the entire call log, nearly all WhatsApp messages, and nearly all iMessages associated with the phone.
The jury convicted Charbonier-Laureano and Montes-Rivera 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.
Charbonier-Laureano and Montes-Rivera are scheduled to be sentenced on April 10 and face a maximum penalty of five years in prison on the conspiracy count; a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each federal funds theft, bribery, and kickbacks count; a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each honest services wire fraud count; and a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each money laundering count. Charbonier-Laureano also faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the obstruction of justice count. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Acevedo-Ceballos pleaded guilty on Nov. 7 to federal funds bribery and is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 5, 2024.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri 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 Divion’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney María L. Montañez Concepción for the District of Puerto Rico are prosecuting the case.