Thursday, January 4, 2007

AIDS probe said to focus on salaries

Local News Thursday, December 14, 2006 The San Juan Star

AIDS activist: S.J. program
always spent payroll funds
despite 8-10 vacancies

Of The STAR Staff
The federal investigation into possible misuse of federal
funds for HIV/AIDs patients granted to the municipality
of San Juan likely centers on irregularities in spending on
salaries, an AIDS activist said Wednesday.
José Colón, spokesman for AIDs Patients in Favor of
Responsible Policy, said Wednesday that although the city AIDS
program had about eight to 10 vacancies at any given time, it’s
entire budget on salaries was always spent.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Luis Fraticelli confirmed that
AIDS funding is the object of the probe by federal authorities,
but declined to detail the targets of the probe after 85 federal
agents raided four city offices that manage funds for HIV/AIDs
patients Tuesday, seizing thousands of documents. The offices
raided were the city’s San Juan AIDs Program on Fernández
Juncos Avenue,Office of Federal Funding in the Municipal Tower
on Chardón Avenue and the AIDs Task Force and External Office
of Federal Funding, both of which are located at the Centro Más
Salud Gualberto Rabell.
Colón made the comments based on his experience as a member
of the Council of community members, doctors and public
officials charged with overseeing the AIDs Task Force, the city
office that administers $15 million in Ryan White funding for
San Juan as well as 29 other municipalities. San Juan and
Bayamón receive funds directly through the program,which San
Juan administers,while it funds community-based service organizations
in the remaining municipalities.
The federal program is geared to addressing the unmet needs
of persons living with HIV/AIDs by funding primary healthcare
and support services.
Vacant posts, few reports
“The Council spent three-and-a-half years asking for a report
on the Task Force’s spending. … When we finally obtained a
copy of the report it indicated that while there were between
eight and 10 vacant posts in the program all the funds budgeted
for salaries were being spent,”Colón said.
Other anomalies included the fact that the city kept getting
Ryan White funds to provide dental services to AIDs patients,
even though this service did not operate in 2004 or 2005, Colón
The FBI also could be looking into the fact that San Juan
stopped taking on new AIDs patients as beneficiaries of these
programs in November 2005, he said, adding that the AIDs Task
Force may have also deviated federal funding earmarked for service
to HIV/AIDs patients to other medical services.
Colón also denounced that housing vouchers for persons living
with HIV/AIDs “were being sold to people who were not
sick,” and that medication for HIV/AIDs patients was always
lacking, even though federal funds for medicine are allotted
annually in accordance with the city’s needs.
“There was a patient who was denied psychotropic drugs
[which are used to treat depression and dementia in HIV/AIDs
patients] who left the office [in Centro Más Salud] and went into
the parking lot and drank poison because he was so hopeless
with the situation of not being able to get his medicine,” Colón
“[Federal authorities] should conduct this investigation to the
utmost and do so in a meticulous manner because if they do
that, without a doubt, many, many things will come to light,”
Colón said.
For Colón, the FBI’s most likely targets of the investigation are
AIDs Task Force Director Alfrida Tomey,Federal Affairs Director
María del Carmen Muñoz, Special Projects Director Gloria
Amador and Sonia Collazo, the manager of the AIDs Program at
the Centro Más Salud.
This is so because irregularities stem from administration of
the funds, said Colón, who praised the work of doctors, nurses
and technicians who work in the program.
“Tomey almost never attended council meetings because she
has been studying law,”Colón said.
City Hall responds
San Juan Press Director Suyín Huerta said none of these officials
nor the city would be commenting on the allegations.
“I am not going to dignify this kind of speculation with comments,”
Huerta said. “We have to let the investigation run its
course. Right now there are no charges or even an indication of
what federal authorities are looking into.”
Huerta said the mayor maintains his confidence in these officials,
adding that no action would be taken on their posts unless
federal charges are filed. Other city officials involved in the disbursement
of federal funds include San Juan Finance Director
María Victoria León, and Sheila McCarthy and Janene Dyson,
who are the persons authorized to disburse Ryan White funds to
community-based organizations in other island municipalities,
Huerta said.
Santini, who visited Centro Más Salud on Wednesday, has
underlined that seized documents date back to January 2000,
which covers the last year of former Gov. Sila Calderón’s mayorship.
During his visit Wednesday, Santini said city officials continue
to work to improve services in this area, adding that if anyone is
charged of wrongdoing in the matter, “I myself will handcuff

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