Thursday, January 4, 2007

Feds raid 4 San Juan AIDS Program offices

Local News Wednesday, December 13, 2006 The San Juan Star

Thousands of documents seized; a
surprised Santini vows cooperation

Of The STAR Staff
Eighty-five federal agents raided four
San Juan municipality offices that
manage federal funds for HIV/AIDS
patients, seizing thousands of documents in a
search that continued into Tuesday night.
“We are investigating the possible improper
use of federal funds allocated under the Ryan
White program to the San Juan municipality,
which handles the funds and allocates them
to another 29 municipalities,” FBI Special
Agent in Charge Luis Fraticelli said.
Agents from the Federal Bureau of
Investigations, the U.S. Internal Revenue
Service, the Puerto Rico Police and the U.S.
Health and Human Services Office of the
Inspector General participated in the raids,
which included computer specialists flown in
from the states.
Agents raided the San Juan AIDS Program
Office on Fernández Juncos Avenue, San Juan’s
Office of Federal Funding in the city’s
Municipal Tower on Chardón Avenue, and two
offices at the Centro Más Salud Gualberto
Seizure of documents would continue into
the night at the city’s AIDS Program Clinic,
Fraticelli said.
“Information indicates that not all the funds
are being used for their specified purpose,”
Fraticelli said. “The sad part of these cases is
that at the end of the day, the ones who are
affected are the AIDS patients, who need
those resources for their treatment and quality
of life.”
Right now San Juan is the main target of the
probe, which could spread to other municipalities,
Fraticelli said, adding the FBI has a
congressional mandate to crack down on
healthcare fraud.
“We’ve been investigating this for some
time,” said Fraticelli, declining to say whether
he expected indictments to come down.
However, a court source said the OIG only
tends to probe matters that are ripe and that
indictments could be coming down as soon as
next month.
San Juan receives about $15 million a year
through the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS
Resources Emergency (CARE) Act program,
which is geared to addressing the unmet
needs of persons living with HIV/AIDS by
funding primary healthcare and support services.
San Juan and Bayamón receive direct funding
through the program, while other island
municipalities receive funding for community-
based service programs.
Mayor surprised, but cooperative
San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini and other
municipal officials voiced surprise Tuesday
morning at the allegations, while adding that
they would cooperate fully with the inquiry.
“He who puts his hand in the fire will get
burned, and I am going to work toward that,”
said Santini, adding he would call the FBI to
ask how the municipality could coordinate
efforts with the agency to “prevent evidence
from being destroyed.”
Santini denied allegations he could be among
the targets, saying such a claim was “offensive”
and “an atrocity.”
“If anybody has followed the law it has been
me,” Santini said, noting that he instigated an
investigation which uncovered fraud in the
city’s Section 8 Housing program.
San Juan Finance Director María Victoria
León said documents seized date back to 2000
and include documents not specifically related
to AIDS programs, adding that she authorized
agents to enter the office and interview
whomever they needed.
The inquiry could include payment of
salaries through the program, Fraticelli said.
On Tuesday morning, Santini said “that he
had no knowledge of any of [the allegations].”
Later in the day,he said he had referred problems
related to housing vouchers and funding
for vaccines under the Ryan White program
from Sila Calderón’s municipal administration
to federal authorities. Santini emphasized that
documents requested included the last year of
Calderón’s term as city mayor.
AIDS activist José Colón said he has been
denouncing the misuse of funding in these
programs for years, including problems with
housing vouchers, patients not receiving medications
and doctors not getting paid.
“These housing vouchers were being sold to
people who were not sick,” said Colón,
spokesman for AIDS Patients in Favor of
Healthy Policy.
Colón added that while federal funds for
medicine are allotted annually in accordance
with the city’s needs, medication for San Juan
AIDS patients was always lacking.
“There was a $20 million
annual contract” with the
medicine supplier, he said,
adding that doctors working
under the city’s AIDS program
sometimes would go
five months without getting
Other federal probes
Earlier this year Livia Alicea,
the head of San Juan’s Section
8 Program,was indicted along
with others for the solicitation
of bribes to bump people up
on the waiting list for services
under the program.Their trial
is pending.
Federal officials have been
investigating different local
entities for some time on
whether federal funds for
HIV/AIDS patients have been
used correctly.
One of the biggest cases
exploded when federal officials
uncovered an elaborate
money laundering and diversion
of federal funds scheme
in 1997 that occurred for
years at the San Juan AIDS
Institute. About a dozen people
were indicted and convicted
between 1999 and 2000,
including then-coordinator
Yamil Kourí, who was sentenced
to 14 years.Two others
were indicted and convicted
for helping in the cover-up.

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