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Ex-Puerto Rico legislator sentenced to nearly 5 years for kickback scheme

Former Puerto Rican House Rep. Nelson Del Valle Colon was sentenced to 57 months in jail on Wednesday for accepting semiweekly kickbacks from two of employees. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Former Puerto Rican House Rep. Nelson Del Valle Colon was sentenced to 57 months in jail on Wednesday for accepting semiweekly kickbacks from two of employees. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 7 (UPI) -- A judge on Wednesday sentenced a former Puerto Rico legislator to nearly five years in jail after pleading guilty to charges stemming from a bribery and kickback scheme involving two of his employees.

Along with being sentenced to 57 months in jail, Nelson Del Valle Colon, 56, of Dorado, Puerto Rico, was ordered to pay $190,000 in restitution, the Justice Department said in a statement.

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Del Valle Colon, 56, pleaded guilty in late March to one count of federal program bribery.

The former Puerto Rico politician was first elected to represent the Ninth District in the U.S. territory's House of Representatives in 2004, a seat he held until 2008. He was then re-elected to the seat for a second term in 2016.

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After taking office in 2017, Del Valle Colon hired Mildred Estrada-Rojas, who was under his employment during his first term in office, and her daughter, Nickolle Santos-Estrada, to work in his legislative office.

According to court documents, when Estrada-Rojas worked for Del Valle Colon during his first term her semiweekly salary amounted to less than $1,000. Immediately after she was hired as office director for Del Valle Colon, her government salary more than doubled to $2,300. Santos-Estrada's semiweekly salary was about $2,000.

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Prosecutors said that in exchange for their positions and their inflated salaries, the mother and daughter each paid Del Valle Colon kickbacks worth between $500 and $1,300 on a semiweekly basis from the time of their hiring until July 2020.

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Court documents state that Del Valle Colon received the kickbacks in envelopes delivered to his Old San Juan Capitol building offices and sometimes via a smartphone application called ATH Movil.

Estrada-Rojas, 55, and Santos-Estrada, 33, each also pleaded guilty to one count of federal program bribery the same day as Del Valle Colon, with the latter scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 16 and the former on Sept. 28.

All three were originally indicted in August of 2020.

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"The citizens of Puerto Rico were betrayed by legislator Del Valle Colon, an elected official who abused his position for personal gain, and who must be held accountable for violating one of the basic tenets of public trust, that is, serving his constituents with integrity and honesty," U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the District of Puerto Rico said in a statement after the charges were first revealed.

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