MIAMI — Jorge De Castro Font, 47, a former senate majority leader in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, was sentenced today to 60 months in prison after pleading guilty to 20 counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion. De Castro Font was sentenced in Puerto Rico by U.S. District Judge Francisco A. Besosa. He will also have to serve three years of supervised release following his prison term.
De Castro Font pleaded guilty on Jan. 21, 2009, to engaging in a scheme to deprive the people of Puerto Rico of his honest services as a legislator. De Castro Font also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion through fear of economic harm and under color of official right. De Castro Font was charged with these and other related offenses on Oct. 2, 2008.
“Former senator de Castro Font abused his elected position for his own financial benefit. By trading dollars for official acts, he undermined the trust that the people of Puerto Rico placed in him,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. “Today’s prison sentence shows that ultimately corruption doesn’t pay. The Public Integrity Section and its law enforcement partners will continue to pursue elected officials aggressively, and seek stiff sentences for those convicted.”
In his guilty plea, de Castro Font admitted that from Jan. 2, 2005, through August 2008, he directly and indirectly solicited between approximately $500,000 and $525,000 in cash payments and other benefits, such as campaign contributions in excess of the legal limits, lodging, private flights, meals and other things of value, from individuals. De Castro Font admitted that he engaged in official acts on behalf of some of these individuals who had provided him with these undisclosed benefits, including proposing legislation, preventing legislative projects to be voted or acted upon, and persuading other legislators to vote for or against legislation.
“The sentence imposed by the court today sends a strong message to public officials who engage in self-dealing and use their public office for financial gain. Public corruption crimes are serious offenses that will be stiffly punished by the courts,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. “These crimes involve betrayal of the public trust constituents placed in the elected official. But the consequences transcend the boundaries of a particular case. Public corruption crimes corrode our representative form of government, undermine the public’s confidence in its public officials, and subvert the very essence of democracy. The District of Puerto Rico remains committed to continuing to investigate and prosecute public corruption crimes as one of our top priorities.”
De Castro Font also admitted to participating in a conspiracy to obtain cash and other benefits from five individuals he acknowledged that he knew felt if they did not provide him with the financial benefits requested, de Castro Font could use his official position to harm their financial interests.
“Let this conviction and sentencing send a stark message to all public servants that the sale of influence and public corruption will not be tolerated by the FBI or the law-abiding citizens of Puerto Rico,” said Luis Fraticelli, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI-San Juan Field Office. “The FBI will continue to be vigilant so as to root out all public corruption. As I have said before, corruption affects every facet of society, particularly the hard working and honest people.”
On Dec. 4, 2008, Alberto Goachet, a political consultant and aide to de Castro Font, pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy to launder illegal campaign contributions and other payments. Goachet admitted that he and others laundered the money through the use of fake invoices purporting to reflect legitimate payments to a political consulting firm owned by Goachet. Goachet admitted that the false invoices were meant to conceal a businessman’s illegal payments to de Castro Font. Goachet also admitted that in August 2008 he falsely claimed in an interview with the FBI that the invoices were legitimately written for services rendered to the businessman and denied that the money was intended for de Castro Font. Goachet was sentenced in March 2009 to three months in prison, three months of home detention and three years of supervised release.
Although de Castro Font was arrested by the FBI and indicted on 32 federal charges including fraud, extortion, bribery and money laundering on October 2, 2008, he was re-elected Senator the following month on November 4, 2008.
On December 4, 2008, de Castro Font was jailed for violating his bail conditions when, according to Federal District Court Judge Francisco Besosa he had at least three improper contacts with government witnesses. He resigned his Puerto Rico Senate seat on December 21, 2008.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jacqueline Novas, Timothy R. Henwood and Ernesto López-Soltero of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, and Trial Attorney Peter Koski of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section. The case was investigated by the FBI’s San Juan Field Office.