By Daniel Bases
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has charged 10 Puerto Rico officials and businessmen, including a leading fundraiser for the governing party, with corruption, extortion, bribery, and wire fraud.
Puerto Rico's U.S. Attorney, Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, said on Thursday in a statement that the 25 count indictment exposes the "underhanded dealings" and cronyism within the island's cash-strapped government.
Puerto Rico this week narrowly avoided a formal default on $355 million worth of government bonds while it still struggles to repay some $72 billion in debt. It next faces $945 million worth of bond payments due Jan. 1, according to Moody's Investors Service.
Businessman Anaudi Perez, a top fundraising official for the ruling Partido Popular Democrático (PDD), was accused of using his personal friendship with Governor Alejandro Padilla's brother to "successfully make recommendations on behalf of individuals seeking government appointments and employment after the election."
Padilla was elected in 2012 and took office in January 2013.
"Unfortunately, this is one more case of graft, greed and corruption that over the last 20 years have contributed to the government of Puerto Rico's fragile financial condition and on the brink of bankruptcy," FBI Special Agent in Charge Carlos Cases said in the statement.
Government officials indicted include Sally Lopez Martinez, administrator of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's Workforce Development Administration; Sonia Barreto Colon, purchasing director of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority; and Ivonne Falcon Nieves, the authority's vice president.
A full list of the indicted individuals can be found here ((http://1.usa.gov/1MYLLDJ))
Governor Padilla said in a Facebook post that he was sad, angry, and disappointed with the indictments, and that the charges are a "tragedy" for Puerto Rico during its financial crisis.
(Reporting by Daniel Bases in New York and Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Richard Chang)