Puerto Rico trial of senator, businessman ends

AP News
Posted: Mar 04, 2011 6:12 PM
Puerto Rico trial of senator, businessman ends

Lawyers for a Puerto Rican senator and the owner of a security company told jurors that federal prosecutors failed to prove the pair took part in a bribery scheme as a corruption trial ended Friday in the U.S. island territory.

Displaying a picture of Swiss cheese to represent holes in the prosecution's case, the lawyer for Sen. Hector Martinez said there was no evidence the lawmaker traded a trip to Las Vegas to see a championship boxing match for assistance with legislation to help the security company eliminate its competitors in Puerto Rico.

"Hector's support for the legislation and the trip are unconnected," said defense attorney Abbe D. Lowell, who rested his case without calling any witnesses.

Earlier, Martinez wept with emotion as he hugged dozens of supporters calling his name amid a din of salsa music outside the federal courthouse in the capital, San Juan, before he entered the courtroom.

Martinez and Juan Bravo Fernandez, the former head of the Ranger American security company, face charges that include bribery in what federal prosecutors portrayed as a straightforward case of public corruption.

Prosecutors alleged that Martinez, a two-term senator in the island's legislature from the San Juan suburb of Carolina, accepted an all-expense-paid, first-class trip to Las Vegas to watch a boxing match between Felix Trinidad and Winky Wright in May 2005, two months after he allegedly submitted a bill that favored Bravo's business.

"This case is about greed and corruption. It's about influence and reward," prosecutor Deborah Mayer said in her closing arguments. "He knew that the trip was illegal. ... In exchange, he gave Juan Bravo everything that he wanted."

Ranger American is Puerto Rico's largest security company, with about 2,000 employees.

Martinez submitted two pieces of legislation that would have helped the company. One would have established conduct codes at island shopping malls, where the company provides security. The other would have required the head of any security company to have a private detective license, which prosecutors said would have driven Bravo's competitors out of the market. The bills were never passed.

Lowell said that Martinez supported the bills because he believed they were good legislation and that he never would have risked being seen at a highly publicized and televised boxing match if he thought he had something to hide.

"It's not the kind of action people take when they think they're committing a corrupt act," he said.

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

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

Jurors deliberated about 30 minutes Friday before getting the judge's approval to reconvene Monday morning.