U.S. authorities unsealed a corruption indictment against two former top officials in Puerto Rico for directing $15.5 million in contracts to favored businesses, allegedly edging out other firms for lucrative government work despite allegations of being unqualified, reports NPR. Julia Keleher, education secretary before stepping down in April, and Ángela Ávila-Marrero, who led the Health Insurance Administration until last month, were arrested by FBI agents Wednesday.
The two former officials allegedly handed four associates an inside track to contracts. Authorities say the contractors benefited by paying “unauthorized commissions” to other individuals to lobby government for more contracts, a dynamic authorities described as “a corrupt bidding process.” The charges come at a politically sensitive time for the island’s government, which has been trying to project a polished and competent image to Congress as island leadership expect to receive billions of dollars in recovery aid to help rebuild after Hurricane Maria. The aid was delayed after Congress squabbled about how much the island deserves after the hurricane killed nearly 3,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), the chair of the Natural Resources Committee that oversees Puerto Rico, called on Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to resign. “The Puerto Rican people deserve a government that takes public service seriously, that’s transparent and accountable, and that doesn’t let this happen in the first place,” Grijalva said.