FBI arrests Puerto Rico producer in government chat scandal

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The FBI arrested a radio producer Wednesday for allegedly trying to extort money from a government official to prevent the release of private messages that would “burn down Puerto Rico” — communications from an encrypted messaging app that later brought down Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

Sixto Jorge Díaz Colón, 52, who once worked for the Spanish Broadcasting System, faces federal charges including attempted extortion and the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in a federal investigation, according to a grand jury indictment.

The indictment says a former government subcontractor contacted Díaz in February 2019 and said he had a copy of messages sent via the Telegram app that supposedly contained incriminating information about Rosselló, his close associates and members of his party.

Four months later, authorities allege, Díaz sent a Telegram message to the island’s public affairs secretary saying that if the Rosselló government “does not stop messing” with the relative of a former senior official, the subcontractor “has overwhelming evidence” that could wreck the administration, starting with the governor.

Authorities say Díaz then contacted the public affairs secretary to request a meeting, during which he asked for help in obtaining government contracts that would compensate him.

“Public corruption has many faces,” said Rafael Riviere, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Juan office. “Sometimes … criminals will try to exploit the weaknesses of those who hold public office. This is also a form of public corruption and, as any other form of corruption, it will not be tolerated.”

While the indictment does not identify the public affairs secretary by name, Anthony Maceira was in that position at the time.

Joannie Plaza-Martínez, a public defender assigned to Díaz’s case, did not immediately return a message for comment. Maceira did not respond to a request for comment.

The names of the relative and subcontractor were not released.

Weeks after the meeting, local media released hundreds of pages of the private, profanity-laced Telegram messages in which Rosselló and other high-ranking officials insulted women and mocked constituents, including victims of Hurricane María. The revelation led to huge protests that paralyzed Puerto Rico and eventually prompted Rosselló to resign.

During that time, officials charge, Díaz tried to extort money from the public affairs secretary to prevent the release of additional Telegram messages, saying the subcontractor intended to “burn down Puerto Rico” unless he received some $300,000 via Díaz. Authorities allege Díaz also requested additional money to pay others who would advocate for Rosselló and the reinstatement of government contracts that would benefit him.

The indictment states that while the public affairs secretary sent a Telegram message saying they were working on the matter, no money was paid or contracts awarded.

FBI spokeswoman Limary Cruz said Díaz was arrested at his home Wednesday.

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