Federal officials said Wednesday that they broke up a ring of education officials and businessmen that siphoned funds meant for special-needs children, training and supplies into bribes and kickbacks.
Seven businessmen and six current and former employees of Puerto Rico's Department of Education were arrested by the FBI on charges that include bribery and money laundering.
Authorities say the education department's former chief procurement officer, Luis Conde Rosa, masterminded the plan, raking in kickbacks on more than $7.6 million in contracts awarded to three companies from January 2008 to February 2010.
U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said at a news conference that Conde received 2 percent of all contracts awarded to one of the three companies, which issued checks to false businesses for promotional, accounting and consulting services that were never provided. The businessmen are accused of then cashing those checks and using part of the money to pay education officials.
Education officials received roughly between $20,000 and $50,000 each, authorities said.
The investigation was launched by the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Education.
"Our office will continue to protect federal education funds from this kind of calculated plunder," said William Hamel, the department's assistant inspector general for investigation.
If found guilty, the suspects face as long as 20 years in prison.
Last year, Puerto Rico's Department of Education received more than $800,000 in federal funds.