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Puerto Rican governor charged in campaign finance probe

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  • NEW: Governor, 12 others charged with defrauding Puerto Rico treasury of $7 million
  • Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila faces 19 counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud
  • Charges stem from probe of illegal campaign contributions
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Puerto Rican Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila and 12 associates face criminal charges related to the financing of three of Acevedo's campaigns, according to a federal indictment unsealed Thursday.

Acevedo, 48, faces 19 counts, including conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud.

He and legal adviser Luisa Inclan Bird are accused of soliciting, accepting and reimbursing illegal "conduit contributions" from Acevedo's family and staff. Conduit contributions are those made by one person in the name of another.

In addition, "a group of Philadelphia-area businessmen solicited, accepted, and then reimbursed illegal conduit contributions from their own Philadelphia-area family members and staff" on behalf of Acevedo, a Justice Department news release said.

The charges relate to Acevedo's 1999-2000 and 2000-2002 campaigns for resident commissioner of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico as a nonvoting representative in the House of Representatives as well as his 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

A grand jury in San Juan returned the indictment Monday.

Acevedo was Puerto Rico's resident commissioner from 2001 until 2005. He has been governor -- the island's top official -- since 2005.

Acevedo and his associates also are accused of defrauding the Puerto Rican treasury of $7 million "by fraudulently pledging to abide by a voluntary public funding law" in his gubernatorial campaign, authorities said. In exchange for the pledge, $7 million in public funds went to Acevedo's campaign, according to the indictment.

Campaign finance laws require a cap on campaign spending as well as full reporting of all contributions and expenditures.

But prosecutors said the campaign conducted unreported fundraising and made unrecorded vendor payments during his 2004 campaign "to raise and spend far more than the limited amount to which they had agreed."

Large sums of cash were used to conceal the contributions and vendor payments in a scheme involving the businessmen, authorities said.

Acevedo's charges include one count of conspiracy to violate federal election laws, two counts of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission, 12 counts of wire fraud, one count of federal program fraud, one count of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and two counts of filing a false tax return.

The wire fraud counts alone carry a penalty upon conviction of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, authorities said.

A Justice Department spokeswoman would only say that authorities are working with the governor's attorneys when asked if Acevedo was arrested.

"Our democratic system cannot function when public officials act as though they are above the law," said Luis Fraticelli, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Juan Field Office. "Public officials must comply with the law, and those who do not comply will be held accountable."

Puerto Rico is a self-governing commonwealth and a U.S. territory. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and hold presidential primaries, but they're not allowed to vote in the presidential election.

Puerto Ricans are the second-largest Latino group in the United States, with an estimated 4 million on the mainland and another 4 million on the island.

Acevedo has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president and is a superdelegate for the Democratic candidate. However, if Acevedo were detained, he wouldn't be able to attend the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver, Colorado. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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