A sitting Puerto Rico superior court judge who allegedly took bribes in exchange for acquitting a criminal defendant of vehicular homicide was charged with conspiracy in a federal indictment returned Thursday.
The businessman was also charged under a U.S. domestic anti-bribery law.
A federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico charged Judge Manuel Acevedo-Hernandez, 62, and Lutgardo Acevedo-Lopez, 39, with conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery.
The DOJ didn’t bring charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The FCPA prohibits corrupt payments only to a foreign official. The judge isn’t a foreign official because Puerto Rico isn’t a foreign country. It’s an unincorporated United States territory.
Acevedo-Hernandez — a Supervisory Superior Court Judge in the Aguadilla judicial region of Puerto Rico — was arrested at his home early Thursday. He had presided over Acevedo-Lopez’s criminal trial and acquitted him of all charges arising from a fatal car crash, including vehicular homicide.
In exchange for the acquittal, Acevedo-Lopez allegedly bribed Judge Acevedo-Hernandez by paying taxes he owed, paying for construction of a garage, and “providing him with a motorcycle, clothing and accessories, including cufflinks and a watch,” the DOJ said.
The judge was also charged with taking a bribe as an agent of an organization receiving U.S. federal funds. And Acevedo-Lopez was charged with paying a bribe to an agent of an organization receiving federal funds.
“The outcome of a criminal case should be determined by the evidence and the law, not by paid-for bias,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said.
“When citizens can’t have faith in the very people who are sworn to uphold the law,” she said, “confidence in the entire system is shaken.”
The DOJ’s May 29, 2014 release is here.
Richard L. Cassin is the Publisher and Editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.