An ongoing FBI investigation saw a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico returning an eight-count indictment against Nelson Del Valle Colon, a member of the Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, and two of his employees, Nickolle Santos-Estrada and her mother, Mildred Estrada-Rojas for alleged participation in a conspiracy of multi-year theft, bribery and kickbacks.
The Department of Justice announced Thursday that Del Valle Colon, Santos, and Estrada were charged with conspiracy, as well as theft, bribery, and kickbacks relating to programs that received federal funding. Del Valle Colon also faces additional charges of honest services wire fraud and obstruction of justice for destroying his cell phone data.
“Puerto Rico legislator Nelson Del Valle Colon and his employees allegedly embarked on a years-long conspiracy to enrich themselves by embezzling funds and using bribes and kickback to defraud the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “As the case shows, the Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners are committed to holding elected officials accountable for corrupt conduct.”
The indictment alleges that in 2017, Del Valle Colon received kickbacks ranging from $500 to $2,000 from unsubstantiated pay raises of employees, who would keep a portion for themselves and pay the rest to Del Valle Colon.
According to the indictment, a variety of means to transfer the kickbacks, including an app that allows those who bank at certain financial institutions to transfer money to each other through an interface on their cell phones.
“Public corruption destroys the trust we have in our elected officials, which is essential for democracy to thrive,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico. “In this case, 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.”
Muldrow said the U.S. Attorney’s office will continue to investigate and prosecute anyone who violates public trust and remove them from office.