The FBI has arrested two former Puerto Rico officials for funneling disaster aid payments to politically connected contractors.
The Wednesday arrests have prompted concern on Capitol Hill that the island’s corruption will blunt the effectiveness of a recently passed disaster aid bill. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., has called for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation, according to the Washington Post.
The FBI indictment charges Puerto Rico’s former Education Secretary Julia Keleher, former Health Insurance Agency Chief Ángela Ávila-Marrero, and four others with crimes related to grifting U.S. disaster aid. Keleher and Ávila-Marrero both served in Rosselló’s administration before leaving in April and June, respectively.
Rosselló himself is not under investigation. Grijalva is the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which is overseeing the recovery effort on the island from Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“We’ve crossed that crucible now,” Grijalva said. “The restoration of accountability is so key going forward.”
The arrests come weeks after Congress passed a $19 billion disaster aid bill to the island that is still struggling after the September 2017 hurricane severely damaged the island’s infrastructure and power grid.
The bill, considered a victory for Democrats at the time, provided much more funding for Puerto Rico than President Trump wanted. Trump and several House Republicans had stalled the bill for weeks.
Trump said Washington had already supplied the U.S. territory with plenty of aid. House conservatives resisted what they saw as an attempt by House Democrats to pass a large funding bill without debate.
Trump criticized Puerto Rico’s political leaders as “incompetent or corrupt” in April while protesting Democrats’ calls to provide more funding for the territory.
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