Jury convicts Puerto Rican senator of bribery

AP News
Posted: Mar 07, 2011 9:10 PM
Jury convicts Puerto Rican senator of bribery

A jury convicted a prominent Puerto Rico senator and an island businessman of bribery Monday in a high-profile trial that featured allegations the lawmaker accepted a trip to Las Vegas to see a boxing match in exchange for political favors.

Jurors found Sen. Hector Martinez and businessman Juan Bravo Fernandez guilty of one count each of bribery. The verdicts came at the end of the first full day of deliberations in the U.S. federal court trial.

The judge dismissed one count of conspiracy against Martinez, who was found not guilty of obstruction of justice and of interstate travel in aid of racketeering.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 7. Each bribery count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.

Judge Francisco 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.

Martinez'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."

Senate President Tomas Rivera Schatz said he will not ask Martinez to step down as senator.

"I am convinced that Hector Martinez did not violate the law," he told reporters.

Martinez stood by his side with tears in his eyes. He declined to comment.

However, Gov. Luis Fortuno later issued a statement saying Martinez should resign and abandon all his responsibilities as a senator.

Prosecutors accused Martinez of accepting an all-expense-paid trip to Las Vegas to watch a boxing match in 2005 shortly after he submitted a bill that allegedly favored the business of Bravo, who owns one of the island's largest private security firms.

Bravo also was found guilty of conspiracy and of interstate travel in aid of racketeering.

Bravo was the former chief executive and president of Ranger American, which provides security services at Puerto Rico largest shopping malls and has an armored car division.

Prosecutors alleged he 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 Martinez 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.

Neither bill was approved.

The verdict comes three weeks after the trial began, with supporters greeting Martinez daily in front of the federal courthouse with music on loudspeakers and signs of support.