FBI makes new arrest in Puerto Rico’s former education secretary federal fraud probe

The FBI has arrested a seventh person in connection with an ongoing federal fraud probe involving Puerto Rico’s former education secretary Julia Keleher, an agency spokesperson confirmed to NBC News.

Aníbal Jover, the former president of Puerto Rico’s Association of Certified Public Accountants, was arrested by federal agents Tuesday morning, said FBI spokesperson Limary Cruz.

“The case does have a gag order, so I cannot comment any further,” Cruz told NBC News.

Authorities say Jover, Keleher, former Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head Ángela Ávila-Marrero, businessmen Fernando Scherrer-Caillet and Alberto Velázquez-Piñol as well as education contractors Glenda E. Ponce-Mendoza and Mayra Ponce-Mendoza, who are sisters, participated in an alleged fraud scheme involving $15.5 million in federal funding between 2017 and 2019. They all face nearly 100 counts of money laundering, fraud and other related charges.

Jover pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud charges, his attorney Giovanni Canino told reporters outside the federal prosecutor’s office in Puerto Rico Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m completely surprised,” said Jover as he rushed out of the building.

According to the probe, Jover paid Velázquez-Piñol, a former government subcontractor, to secure contracts for him with the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration, Puerto Rico’s national newspaper El Nuevo Día reported.

Keleher, a native of Philadelphia, drew controversy during her two-year tenure as the island’s education secretary. She closed hundreds of schools, citing realities of a shrinking student population. She also implemented the island’s first charter school, hoping to expand their presence in Puerto Rico.

A federal grand jury last year returned indictments in the case for three contractors, a former government advisor, Keleher and the former director of Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration. The Ponce-Mendoza sisters have already pleaded guilty, while Keleher’s attorneys have said she is innocent.

Keleher, who resigned in April 2019, is accused of giving school property to a private company in exchange for living in a luxury apartment complex for six months on a $1 lease even though an agreement stipulated a $1,500 monthly rent. Keleher then bought the apartment and received a $12,000 bonus in connection with the purchase when such bonuses rarely exceed $5,000, officials said. Her attorneys have said she is not guilty.