Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló ousted his chief of staff and sought the resignations of four others amid a probe into possible wrongdoing, weakening his administration at a critical juncture in the territory's debt restructuring.
The governor said Wednesday that he was making the moves after Department of Justice had completed a preliminary investigation and recommended the appointment of a Special Independent Prosecutors Panel.
After accepting the resignation of Chief of Staff William Villafañe Ramos, the governor appointed Puerto Rico Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín as interim chief of staff.
The Puerto Rico Oversight Board last month certified a fiscal plan intended to put the commonwealth on firmer economic footing, asserting that Rosselló must implement measures such as cuts to pensions and several labor reforms that he has resisted.
The investigation of Villafañe Ramos and his associates will weaken the governor relative to the Puerto Rico Oversight Board and the legislature, and in particular Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, said University of Puerto Rico Sociology Professor Emilio Pantojas.
“Rosselló has lost his inner circle, a group of millennials with little experience and a penchant for poor judgment. Not good!” Pantojas added.
In his role, Villafañe Ramos was arguably second to only Rosselló himself in power in the governor’s administration. Deputy Chief of Staff Itza García Rodríguez and the Administrator for the Administration for the Support of Minors, Waleska Maldonado Claudio, also resigned.
The governor asked for the resignation of the deputy administrator of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, Yoniel Arroyo Muñiz, and the director of transformation and efficiency in the Office of the Chief of Staff, Yesenia Díaz Román, though their resignations hadn't been announced as of Thursday afternoon.
Reports on the investigation’s purpose were ambiguous and the Department of Justice hadn’t put out a press release. According to the Telemundo web site, the Justice Department was concerned by possible efforts by Villafañe Ramos in October 2016 to influence a judge’s actions on an election.
The department suspected García Rodríguez of perjury and undue influence in regards to appointment of a judge. She is also being investigated for obstruction of justice with regards to behavior towards Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez.
On Wednesday the governor said, “I trust the integrity of Villafañe Ramos and I understand that his decision to resign responds to the best interests of Puerto Rico so as not to divert attention from the transformation agenda of our government.” The governor said the investigation was into actions by the officials before they had been sworn into office in January 2017, when he assumed office.
“As I have stressed in my administration, there is no room for irregularities or corruption,” Rosselló said. “My greatest wish is that this case be clarified.”