SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — FBI agents arrested Puerto Rico Senator Abel Nazario and seven other people early Wednesday as part of an investigation into corruption in the U.S. territory.
FBI spokeswoman Limary Cruz told The Associated Press that the U.S. Attorney’s Office would issue more details soon. She declined further comment.
Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz asked for Nazario’s resignation shortly after his arrest.
“It is unfortunate for him and his family, but even more so for the people of Puerto Rico who watch with anguish events that lacerate the trust in government institutions,” Rivera said in a statement.
The arrests come as Puerto Rico recovers from recent political turmoil that saw the resignation of the island’s previous governor following massive protests spurred in part by anger over corruption.
Edgardo Rosado, a spokesman for Nazario, told the AP that the senator is innocent, adding that the arrest is tied to an ongoing federal case involving people accused of charging the U.S. territory’s government for services never provided. Several suspects have already been accused, including the former director of the Puerto Rico Senate Government Affairs Office.
Federal authorities previously arrested Nazario in September 2018 and accused him of defrauding his employees while serving as mayor of the southwest town of Yauco. They said his employees were required to work two voluntary hours a day, which the Department of Labor identified as a violation.
Nazario agreed to pay nearly $590,000 in back wages to 177 employees, but authorities said they later learned the municipality was withholding employees’ wages, despite Nazario’s pledge that he would not retaliate against workers.
Nazario is awaiting trial in that case.
At that time, Nazario also was vice president of the governor’s New Progressive Party.