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A former Puerto Rico legislator was sentenced to just under five years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty in late March to bribery as part of a kickback scheme. He was also ordered to pay $190,000 in restitution.
Nelson del Valle Colón was a member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives representing the U.S. territory’s Ninth District. He was elected in 2004 and then for a second term in 2016.
The bribery/kickback scheme began when he hired two women to work in his office and demanded biweekly kickbacks from them.
One of the women, Mildred Estrada-Rojas, worked for him in his first term for a salary of $1000 biweekly.
In his second term, her salary increased to $2300 biweekly. Her daughter, Nickolle Santos-Estrada, the other woman connected to the case, was making $2000 biweekly during his second term.
In exchange for their positions working for the legislator and their inflated salaries, the women paid Del Valle Colón biweekly kickbacks ranging from approximately $500 to $1300. This went on for more than three years.
The two women have also pleaded guilty. Their sentencing is expected later this month.
“Estrada is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 28. Santos is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 16. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors,” according to a statement by the DOJ .
All three of those involved in the case admitted that the biweekly kickbacks to Del Valle Colon were paid in a few different ways.
The most-used method was an envelope of cash passed to Del Valle Colón in the Capitol building in Old San Juan. Sometimes the money went through the mobile cash transfer app, ATH Movil.
“The citizens of Puerto Rico were betrayed by legislator Del Valle Colón, an elected official who abused his position for personal gain, and who must be held accountable for violating one of the basic tenets of public trust, that is, serving his constituents with integrity and honesty,” U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the District of Puerto Rico said in a statement after the charges first came to light.
The agents from the San Juan Field Office involved in the case said that public corruption will continue to be a priority for the FBI. They promise to swiftly remove the bad actors that betray the public trust.
They may have a long way to go in that endeavor. Public trust in our institutions is declining according to the Pew Research Center.
This Puerto Rico legislator may be one of many examples of corruption in our government entities.
Until our once-apolitical institutions return to their guiding principles and their oath to uphold the Constitution, many Americans believe that though this guy got caught, several others have gotten away with corruption and will continue to do so.