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Puerto Rican legislator gets 8 years in prison for bribery, kickback scheme

By Ehren Wynder

May 17 (UPI) -- A judge on Friday sentenced a Puerto Rican legislator and her husband for their roles in a multi-year theft, bribery and kickback scheme to defraud the commonwealth.

María Milagros Charbonier-Laureano, also known as Tata, a member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, received eight years in prison. Her husband, Orlando Montes-Rivera, received four years and nine months, according to the Justice Department.

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Charbonier-Laureano received one of the largest sentences imposed on a public figure in Puerto Rico.

She also was sentenced to two years of supervised release and 120 hours of community service.

Her lawyer, Francisco Rebollo, said Friday that he will appeal her sentencing.

"Although we do not agree with the sentence. However, we have to recognize that it is a considered sentence. The court had a broad domain of the disputes and although it does not have my agreement, it has my respect," Rebollo said in a statement.

A jury in January convicted the couple of one count of conspiracy; two counts of theft, bribery, and kickbacks concerning programs receiving federal funds; six counts of honest services wire fraud; and two counts of money laundering.

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Charabonier-Laureano also was convicted of obstruction of justice for deleting data on her cellphone that was relevant to the case.

According to court documents, Charbonier-Laureano, her husband, and her assistant, Frances Acevedo-Ceballos executed a scheme from early 2017 until July 2020 to fraudulently inflate Acevedo-Ceballos' salary in exchange for a portion of the salary.

Over the course of the scheme, Charbonier-Laureano inflated her assistant's salary from $800 on a bi-weekly basis to nearly $2,900. Acevedo-Ceballos agreed to kick back approximately $1,500 every pay period to Charbonier-Laureano and Montes-Rivera.

After learning of an investigation into her office and that a warrant had been obtained for her cellphone, Charbonier-Laureano began deleting nearly all call log entries, WhatsApp messages, and iMessages on the phone.

Acevedo-Ceballos was sentenced in February to three years and one month in prison after pleading guilty to bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

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