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Search warrants issued for officials involved in chat scandal, Puerto Rico Justice Department says

Posted at 12:14 PM, Jul 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-23 14:14:11-04

Puerto Rico’s Justice Department is serving search warrants Tuesday on some of the participants involved in a group chat with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló that helped spur days of protest on the island, a department spokeswoman said.

Last week, the department issued summonses for everyone involved in the private Telegram Messenger chat group with the governor, spokeswoman Mariana Cobian said. Though Cobian said all participants in the group were being summoned to appear before department officials over three days, she declined to provide a list of names.

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As part of the summonses, the chat participants — which include 11 of Rosselló’s top aides and Cabinet members — were ordered to hand over their cellphones for inspection, Cobian said.

Some of the officials have failed to comply with the summonses, she said, declining to elaborate.

Citing the ongoing investigation, Cobian declined to say if Rosselló was the subject of any search warrant, and what exactly investigators are seeking — cellphones or otherwise — in their searches.

A court authorized the warrants Monday and they are being served Tuesday, she said. She would not say how many warrants were issued.

Demonstrations erupted on the island when Puerto Ricans — already incensed over a floundering economy, corruption and the torpid pace of Hurricane Maria recovery — learned of nearly 900 pages of leaked chats from the governor’s private messaging group.

Puerto Rico’s troubles explained

The chats, obtained by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, contain profanity-laden, homophobic and misogynistic messages aimed at opposition politicians, journalists and celebrities.

Dubbed “RickyLeaks,” the chats feature Rosselló hurling a range of insults: He calls a Puerto Rican-born New York official a “whore” and says she should be beaten; says an oversight board managing the island’s financial crisis can “go f*** yourself”; and tells one of his then-top officials that he’d be doing him a “grand favor” by shooting San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

The top official — Christian Sobrino Vega, ex-chief fiscal officer and Rosselló’s representative on the aforementioned oversight board — was in the chats, making a homophobic remark about singer Ricky Martin and mocking those killed in Hurricane Maria. Sobrino Vega resigned earlier this month.

The FBI has previously declined to confirm or deny whether it is separately investigating the chats.