Several trailers filled with donations for Hurricane Maria victims were found rotting at a state elections office in Puerto Rico this week.
The New York Times reported that at least 10 trailers full of food, water and baby supplies were broken open and overrun with rats.
The Times noted that local radio station, Radio Isla, published a video showing cases of items such as beans, Tylenol and water covered in rat and lizard droppings.
After @jexusrodgar filmed donations covered in rat droppings, someone padlocked the trailers filled with undistributed food and water. The National Guard says thanks to investigative reporting, the process will now move along. https://t.co/bVkD11DZpL
— Frances Robles (@FrancesRobles) August 10, 2018
According to the Times, the Puerto Rico elections commission offices were used as a collection center for donations from private entities and nonprofit groups after the island was ravaged by Hurricane Maria last year. Once they were collected, the donations were then distributed by the National Guard.
The PR National Guard says thanks to investigative reporters, they'll now deliver the containers filled with hurricane donations that were left in a government parking lot to rot. https://t.co/bVkD11DZpL
— Frances Robles (@FrancesRobles) August 11, 2018
As the severity of the crisis diminished, the donations were then reportedly stored in trailers in the parking lot of the election bureau’s San Juan offices, where they remained despite continued problems in the region.
Officials confirmed to the Times that the items had remained in trailers for almost a year.
“I agree, it should have been handed out as soon as possible,” Maj. Paul Dahlen, a spokesman for the National Guard, told the Times, adding that some of the materials were received after the National Guard ended its mission in May.
Nicolás Gautier, interim president of the elections council, told CBS News that “whatever was left after the National Guard left was put in those containers.”
“In one of these containers was food for dogs and apparently several of the boxes were broken,” he added. “After the placement in the van, that brings a lot of rats and it infected everything.”
In a statement to the Times, the National Guard also said the containers seen in the video were being used to store food that had arrived after its expiration date. The statement also said items in the trailers that were not spoiled would be delivered to nonprofit groups soon.
The Times report comes almost a year after Hurricane Maria devastated the region and left many without power and electricity. Many have argued the Trump administration’s response to the disaster was too slow and not extensive enough, and helped play a role in the island’s ongoing fight to restore normality.
On Thursday, the Puerto Rican government acknowledged that more than 1,400 people likely died on the island because of the storm, roughly 20 times the previous official estimate.
BREAKING: Puerto Rico authorities are investigating social media posts “which may incite violence” against the First Family, after our report of mismanaged donations, meant for survivors of Hurricane Maria, found rotting, donations that the Nat’l Guard was supposed to distribute pic.twitter.com/eD12ZBLNuV
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) August 11, 2018
As if things weren’t bad enough in the island province, a mayor and two former government officials in Puerto Rico face public corruption charges in separate cases that involve a total of $8 million in federal and local funds. The suspects are the mayor of the southwest town of Sabana Grande and the former directors of finance for the northern town of Toa Baja, which has struggled to pay its employees amid an 11-year recession.
U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez told reporters that the former officials from Toa Baja are accused of using nearly $5 million worth of federal funds to pay the town’s public employees and municipal contractors.
“Not only is that illegal, it’s immoral,” she said.
Officials said former finance director Victor Cruz Quintero deposited some $2.5 million worth of funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development into the town’s general and payroll accounts in October 2014.
He also is accused of making similar deposits and transfers of more than $1.75 million in funds from HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services from September 2014 to February 2016.
Toa Baja’s former interim finance director, Angel Roberto Santos Garcia, is accused of making similar transactions worth $650,000 using funds from those two federal agencies.
It was not immediately clear if Cruz and Santos had attorneys.
Rodriguez said the investigation into alleged corruption in Toa Baja is ongoing because officials believe other people are involved.
Federal authorities said that Mayor Miguel Ortiz is accused of defrauding the federal government of nearly $3 million in a separate scheme that began in 2013 and ended in 2016.
Officials said he is accused of financing projects without prior approval from Puerto Rico’s Department of Education and obtaining funds after misrepresenting the projects’ cost. Authorities said contracted companies and the municipality then received amounts much higher than what was outlined.
Ortiz also is accused of receiving nearly $33,000 in cash from one of the companies and its owner.
A spokeswoman for Ortiz could not be immediately reached for comment.
The arrests come as Puerto Rico struggles to recuperate from Hurricane Maria and tries to restructure a portion of its $70 billion public debt load.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
August 15th, 2018