Conspiracy charge reinstated against PR senator

AP News
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Posted: Mar 08, 2011 5:20 PM
Conspiracy charge reinstated against PR senator

A judge on Tuesday reinstated a conspiracy charge that he had dismissed against a high-profile senator from Puerto Rico following a guilty verdict in a corruption trial.

Judge Francisco Besosa made the decision shortly after Sen. Hector Martinez arrived at the federal courthouse in San Juan to turn over his passport as part of his conditional release while awaiting a June 7 sentencing.

It was unclear why Besosa changed his mind. His brief order said only that the court reconsidered its position and would now allow both sides to debate the jury's findings. Prosecutors have until March 14 to submit a brief that defense attorneys will reply to within a week.

A jury in the U.S. territory found Martinez guilty of bribery and conspiracy Monday, but Besosa dropped the conspiracy charge after defense attorney Abbe D. Lowell argued the verdict was inconsistent.

The maximum penalty for conspiracy is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Besosa's order seemed to take Lowell by surprise.

"No one has ever heard of a judge reinstating a legally impossible count and if he has done so he has made a terrible error," Lowell said in a statement. "Doing it after the fact without a government motion calls into question his reasons for doing so."

Lowell has said he would appeal the verdict because it was legally impossible to find Martinez guilty of bribery in the case given the jury's findings, which included a not guilty verdict on charges of interstate travel in aid of racketeering and of obstructing justice.

Martinez was accused of accepting a trip to Las Vegas to see a boxing match in 2005 in exchange for submitting bills to the legislature that allegedly benefited the business of Juan Bravo Fernandez, who owns one of the island's largest security companies.

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

Martinez declined to comment on the judge's order, but he told reporters that several actions remain to be taken.

"I will keep insisting that I am innocent," he said. "I will face the proceedings as I have been doing."

The judge's reversal came as legislators demanded that Martinez step down as senator, something that Gov. Luis Fortuno had already requested.

Hector Ferrer, president of the Popular Democratic Party, filed a complaint Tuesday with the Senate's Ethics Committee.

"Someone convicted of corruption should not hold a public position," he said. "If Martinez does not resign, it is up to the Ethics Committee to take immediate action."