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03-28-08, 05:33 PM #1
Puerto Rico governor facing corruption charges
Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila surrendered Friday to face corruption charges in an alleged campaign finance scheme as hundreds of flag-waving supporters turned out to cheer him.
Acevedo arrived at the federal courthouse to be fingerprinted and have his mug shot taken before appearing in front of a federal magistrate.
The governor, charged with 19 counts that carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years, is the first Puerto Rican governor to face federal charges since the island became a semiautonomous U.S. commonwealth in 1952.
The indictment accuses Acevedo and a dozen associates of illegally raising money to pay off more than $500,000 in campaign debts from his two terms as Puerto Rico's nonvoting delegate to Congress from 2000-2004.
Acevedo did not address reporters before entering the courthouse Friday. He has denied any wrongdoing and accused U.S. authorities of a launching a politically motivated attack.
Acevedo, who is up for re-election this year, said in a televised address Thursday that he will not resign.
"While I will vigorously defend my actions, my family and my honor, I will never let a politically motivated process distract me from the job I do for you," he said.
However, at a Thursday night meeting with members of his Popular Democratic Party, Acevedo agreed to do anything necessary — including resign — to keep the investigation from harming the organization, former party leader Miguel Hernandez Agosto said.
"That, to me, is a very serious, important and patriotic declaration," Hernandez said. "You cannot be more clear."
Acevedo had accused the Justice Department of targeting him for his criticism of a 2005 FBI raid in Puerto Rico in which a fugitive independence militant was killed. He also says he is being targeted for his opposition to the death penalty, which can only be imposed in the island for federal crimes.
Acting U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez and the head of the FBI in San Juan have denied that the charges against him were politically motivated.
The governor's Popular Democratic Party supports maintaining Puerto Rico's semiautonomous relationship to the United States. His chief rival in November's gubernatorial election, who wants the island to become the 51st state, called on Acevedo to resign.
The governor "does not have the moral standing to govern the people and resolve this mess that he has gotten us into," said Luis Fortuno, who is also the island's nonvoting congressional delegate.
By ANDREW O. SELSKY, Associated Press Writer Fri Mar 28, 10:54 AM ET
Associated Press writer Manuel Ernesto Rivera in San Juan contributed to this report.
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