Home Local News Martínez, Bravo guilty in federal corruption case
Issued : Monday, March 7, 2011 07:50 PM
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Martínez, Bravo guilty in federal corruption case

By CB Online Staff

New Progressive Party Sen. Héctor Martínez and businessman Juan Bravo were found guilty Monday on federal corruption charges stemming from an influence-peddling scheme.

The jury of six women and six men started deliberations just before 10 a.m., sending at least four questions to U.S. District Judge Francisco Besosa before returning with a guilty verdict that was read shortly before 7:40 p.m.

Martínez and Bravo, the former head of the Ranger American security company, faced charges including bribery in what federal prosecutors portrayed as a straightforward case of public corruption.

The jury found Martínez guilty on bribery and conspiracy counts. However, Besosa quickly dismissed his conspiracy conviction. The jury acquitted him of an obstruction of justice charge and a count of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of racketeering.

Bravo was convicted on all three charges he faced — bribery, conspiracy and the interstate commerce violation. He is the former chief executive and president of Ranger American, which provides security services at Puerto Rico’s largest shopping malls and has an armored car division.

Besosa initially said both men should be detained, stating, “We cannot have any tolerance for government corruption.” But he later agreed to a conditional release with support from prosecutors and following an outcry from both defense attorneys. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 7. Each bribery count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.

Martínez’s attorney, Abbe D. Lowell, said he is confident the sole charge on which the senator was convicted will be dropped because the jury found him not guilty on the other charges and because the conspiracy charge was dismissed.

“It’s a legal impossibility,” he said. “The one count that is left makes no sense.”

He said he will file an appeal by March 14. If the judge does not rule in his client’s favor, he said, the case will be taken to the court of appeals.

“We are only in the fifth inning,” Lowell said.

Prosecutor Peter Koski declined comment.

Luis Fraticelli, special agent in charge of FBI operations in Puerto Rico, expressed satisfaction with the verdict.

“The jury spoke, and that’s what matters,” he said. “There is still a long way to go. ... What’s important is that justice was served.”

The verdict was greeted with surprise and tears among supporters of the defendants at the federal courthouse. Relatives of both men wept in the courtroom.

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and former Justice Secretary Antonio Sagardía appeared solemn. Other lawmakers, mayors and friends remained nearly speechless.

Martínez’s lead defense attorney, Abbe D. Lowell, immediately signaled an appeal on his client’s single bribery conviction, voicing optimism it would be tossed by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. David Chesnoff, Bravo’s lead counsel, also said he would appeal.

Outside the courtroom, crowds of supporters that had gathered earlier in the day had thinned out considerably by the time the jury returned with its verdict after more than nine hours of deliberation.

“The Senate believes Héctor Martínez is innocent,” Rivera Schatz said. “We are not going to ask him to resign.”

That position clashed with the stance of Gov. Luis Fortuño, the NPP president, who immediately called for Martínez to step down.

“The senator was judged by a jury of his peers, who after weighing the evidence, decided that the senator is guilty of at least one count of bribery,” Fortuño said in a statement. “Martínez must present his resignation and step down from all of his functions in the Puerto Rico Senate.”

After meeting with supporters outside, Martínez stood by Rivera Schatz’s side with tears in his eyes. He declined to comment. The two lawmakers then climbed into a sport utility vehicle and drove away from the courthouse.

Prosecutors alleged that Martínez, a two-term senator in the island’s Legislature from the San Juan suburb of Carolina, accepted an all-expense-paid trip to Las Vegas to watch a boxing match between Félix “Tito” Trinidad and Winky Wright in May 2005, two months after he submitted a bill that favored Bravo’s business.

Ranger American is Puerto Rico’s largest security company, with about 2,000 employees. Martínez had submitted two pieces of legislation that would have helped the company, and potentially hurt competitors.

Prosecutors Bravo reserved hotel rooms in Miami and at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. They said he also spent $1,000 on tickets for the boxing match the day Martínez submitted one of the bills.

One of the bills called for private security companies to obtain a private detective license, which companies competing with Ranger American did not have. The other bill required shopping centers to establish codes of conduct to be enforced by private security firms.

Martínez was first elected senator in 2004 and re-elected in 2008. He stepped down in March 2010 as president of the powerful Public Safety and Judiciary Affairs Committee, citing the federal investigation.

In closing arguments Friday to cap the two-week trial, defense attorneys told jurors that federal prosecutors failed to prove the pair took part in a bribery scheme.

Displaying a picture of Swiss cheese to represent the holes in the prosecution’s case, Lowell said there was no evidence that the lawmaker traded the trip to Las Vegas for assistance with legislation to help the security company eliminate its competitors in Puerto Rico.

“Héctor’s support for the legislation and the trip are unconnected,” said Lowell, who rested his case without calling any witnesses.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Peter Koski and Deborah Sue Mayer, of the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Integrity Division, countered that the Las Vegas trip was part of a pay-for-play scheme.

“This isn’t a coincidence, this is a corruption scheme,” Mayer said in her closing argument.

“Public corruption will not be tolerated,” Fraticelli said after the verdict Monday.

“There are many investigations under way,” he added.

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