Banker in bribe scandal pleads not guilty in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — An international banker accused of bribing Puerto Rico’s then-governor to undermine an investigation into his institution turned himself in on Wednesday, almost a month after he was charged in federal court.

Julio Herrera Velutini, who is a citizen of Venezuela and Italy and who was thought to be living in the United Kingdom, pleaded not guilty hours after he was arrested in Puerto Rico and was ordered held on a $1 million secured bond.

Herrera faces several charges, including bribery and honest services wire fraud — which implies a third party being harmed by the bribery or kickbacks.

Federal authorities said the Puerto Rico-based Bancredito International Bank & Trust that Herrera owned came under scrutiny in 2019 when Puerto Rico’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions began probing suspicious transactions that the bank did not report.

Officials alleged that Herrera and a former FBI agent who served as his consultant promised to financially support former Gov. Wanda Vázquez’s 2020 campaign for governor if she dismissed the commissioner and appointed a new one of Herrera’s choosing.

Authorities said Vázquez accepted the bribe, demanded the commissioner’s resignation and appointed a former consultant for Herrera’s bank as the new commissioner in May 2020.

Officials said Herrera and Mark Rossini, the ex-FBI agent, then paid more than $300,000 to political consultants to support Vázquez’s campaign.

Rossini, who was in Spain and turned himself in days after he was accused, has pleaded not guilty. Vázquez was arrested in Puerto Rico and was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond after pleading not guilty.

The judge, Giselle López-Soler, allowed Herrera to live in New York ahead of the trial, adding that he must surrender his passport once he arrives. His bank is in the process of being liquidated.

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