U.S. Attorney's sister is implicated in firearms sales' irregularities
Less than a month after a lawsuit was filed in the U. S. District Court for Puerto Rico, a settlement was reached in the case that pitted Luis Bonnet Vázquez, a volunteer commander of the Puerto Rico Police Department, against Mirtza Rodríguez Velez, the sister of the U. S. Attorney for Puerto Rico, in a struggle over control of the distribution deal in the island of Glock firearms.
But before reaching a settlement, Bonnet Vázquez, who also works as a shooting instructor for the Police, implicated Rodríguez Velez and her company, A.E. Rodríguez, Inc. in the sales of guns to state and municipal law enforcement agencies at inflated prices.
A week ago, NotiCel exclusively revealed how the sale of arms for law enforcement agencies in Puerto Rico was disputed among two groups, A.E. Rodríguez, led by the District Attorney's sister, and AmChar Caribe, who's represented in the island by Bonnet Vázquez. The involvement of those players in the legal arms business in Puerto Rico raises suspicion over the kind of privileged access that business is built on here in the island.
In her lawsuit, Rodríguez Velez had stated that, between 2009 to 2014, her company grew the Glock market between $50,000 in 2009 and $1,032,207 in 2014. She had also asked for the restitution of an exclusive distribution deal she had with Glock, while also demanding a $5 million restitution to cover economic damages.
However, in the suit's first hearing last Friday, federal judge Daniel Domínguez pushed the parties to reach an agreement, which they did, ending the litigation well before any discovery or public trial went underway.
Still, in preparation for that hearing, Glock had submitted a series of documents which included a sworn declaration by Bonnet Vázquez in which he reveals that Rodríguez Velez sold guns to municipal police agencies at inflated prices.
'For example, the Glock recommended price for its distributors to sell standard Glock pistols to LE agencies was $358 for plastic sights, $383 for steel sights, and $409 for night sights. Rodriguez had sold standard pistols with plastic sights for the extremely inflated price of $644, $286 more than the recommended price.', declared Bonnet Vázquez.
Under federal penal laws on interstate commerce and electronic financial transactions, the U. S. Attorney's Office, led by Rosa Emilia Rodríguez Velez, would have jurisdiction over these imputations, made under oath, against her sister. In a statement related to the filing of the suit, Rodríguez Velez told NotiCel last week that in 1996 she had ceded to her sister her stock in the family company, which they had inherited after their father's dead in 1994 and that she maintains no current ties with that enterprise.
The firearms business in Puerto Rico for law and order agencies is considerable, with the Puerto Rico Police Department being the second police agency in all of the United Stated in terms of active duty members. The submitted statements in the case indicate that the Police has more than 12,500 active duty members who are handed an official firearm and, in total, manages more than 35,000 firearms between pistols and rifles.
Because of his position as volunteer commander and firearms instructor with the Police, Rodríguez Velez had implicated her competitor, Bonnet Vázquez, in a possible conflict of interests having to do with a pending firearms sale to the Police. As an additional fact, most of the agencies that issue firearms to their employees, among them the Treasury Department and the Natural Resources Department, use Police instructors as their instructors.
A loophole in the Government Ethics law results in that voluntary police members are not regulated by that law, which could leave the field open so they can work as 'law enforcement agents' while at the same time working for companies employed by the Puerto Rico Police Department or that bid for business there.
According to Jennifer Rodríguez Ayala, a spokesperson for the Government Ethics Office (GEO), the agency has no jurisdiction over the 'voluntary police officers' as they are not considered public servants since they are not government employees.
'Voluntary police officers are not public servants, so they are not subjected to the jurisdiction of the GEO. The one who holds primary jurisdiction over them is the Puerto Rico Police. In any case of a possible conflict of interests, it is the Police who must answer for it', the spokesperson stated.
The regulation for volunteer police officers states that the services rendered will not be conflictive with their work in private practices.
Karixia Ortiz, spokesperson for the Public Security Department has not answered a petition submitted last Monday to clarify the charges made against Bonnet Vázquez in the suit.
Bonnet Vázquez, on the other hand, questioned the A.E. Rodríguez's mention of him in the lawsuit, insisting that his position as volunteer commander does not give him any power to make decisions in the Department and denied the imputations made against him. He also denied any involvement in Glock's decision to give his employer, AmChar, a distribution deal in Puerto Rico.
'I don't know nothing about that auction they are talking about', he assured in an interview with NotiCel. However, in his sworn declarations, he makes reference to an imminent deal where the Police would trade in some 14,000 firearms and that 'I have been tending to that business for a long time and Rodríguez's attitude could put it in jeopardy'. This is in reference to the problem presented by the filing of the suit.
Bonnet belongs to the Volunteer Police program where he works close to 200 hours a year as a shooting instructor for regular police officers and other instructors.
'The premise is misinformed. My relationship with the Puerto Rico Police is voluntary, with no type of economic remuneration for the past 19 years uninterrupted. I have nothing to do with any position that the Police might take in a deal. I am a mere volunteer,' he claimed to this digital media outlet.
The voluntary police, according to article 2.18 of the Public Safety Department Act, will have responsibilities similar to a police officer, they must abide by the requisites established in the regulations and will be included in the concept of 'Law Enforcement Agents' as long as they are on duty, which also gives them compensation benefits for accidents in the workspace.