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Former Puerto Rico Legislator Sentenced for Bribery and Kickback Scheme

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


A judge sentenced a former Puerto Rico legislator to 57 months in prison after pleading guilty to charges stemming from a bribery and kickback scheme. He was also ordered to pay $190,000 in restitution.

Nelson Del Valle Colon pleaded guilty in the District of Puerto Rico to federal program bribery in March.

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He 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. He was part of the New Progressive Party.

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

Court documents show that Estrada-Rojas was paid $1,000 bi-weekly when she worked for Del Valle Colon during his first term. When she was hired for his second term, her salary increased to $2,300.

Her daughter, Santos-Estrada, was paid about $2,000 biweekly.

In exchange for their jobs, the mother and daughter each paid Del Valle Colon kickbacks worth between $500 and $1,300 on a semiweekly basis from the time they were hired up until July 2020.

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Estrada-Rojas and Santos-Estrada both pleaded guilty to one count of federal program bribery.

“According to court documents, Del Valle Colon was elected to be a member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives in 2016. He thereafter hired Mildred Estrada-Rojas, 55, and her daughter, Nickolle Santos-Estrada, 33, both of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, to work in his legislative office. In exchange for their employment and their salaries, however, Estrada and Santos paid biweekly kickbacks to Del Valle Colon of between approximately $500 and $1,300 from early 2017 until approximately July 2020,” the Department of Justice stated in a press release.

“According to statements made in connection with their pleas, Del Valle Colon, Estrada, and Santos admitted that the biweekly kickbacks were paid in a variety of ways. Estrada and Santos generally paid their biweekly cash kickbacks in envelopes that they provided to Del Valle Colon in offices in the Capitol building in Old San Juan. Estrada sometimes paid her kickback to Del Valle Colon over ATH Móvil, a mobile phone cash transfer application,” the release added.

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“Estrada is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 28. Santos is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 16. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors,” the DOJ statement concluded.

“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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“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 kickbacks to defraud the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “As this case shows, the Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners are committed to holding elected officials accountable for corrupt conduct.”

“As we have said numerous times, public corruption is and will continue to be a priority for the FBI,” said Special Agent in Charge Rafael Riviere of the FBI’s San Juan Field Office. “May today be a reminder that we will not tolerate corruption and we will act swiftly to remove those who would violate public trust. Special thanks to our DOJ partners for their support of our mission.”

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