Puerto Rico Senator convicted for Vegas boxing trip bribe

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico Tue Mar 8, 2011 8:57am EST

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) - A Puerto Rican senator has been convicted on bribery charges for accepting an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas to see a boxing bout from a businessman who had benefited from legislation the lawmaker had filed.

In a federal court late on Monday, Senator Hector Martinez, 42, of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, was convicted along with businessman Juan Bravo, 55, over the May 2005 trip to see local boxing hero Felix "Tito" Trinidad battle Winky Wright.

The verdict was reached by a jury of six women and six men on the U.S. Caribbean territory.

The trip paid for by Bravo included a first-class airfare, hotel rooms at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, $1,000 tickets to the boxing match, meals, drinks and entertainment, according to federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors said the legislation filed by Martinez had benefited Bravo's security company by establishing conduct codes at island shopping malls where it was contracted. The legislation also required security firm heads to hold a private detective license, which would have driven many of Bravo's competitors from the market.

"Public corruption will not be tolerated," FBI Special Agent in Charge Luis Fraticelli said following the verdict. "We are investigating many other corruption cases."

Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno called on Martinez to resign his Senate post and abandon all functions in the upper chamber. Martinez was first elected senator in 2004 and re-elected in 2008, and served as head of the powerful Judiciary Committee until he resigned last year. He is also the former head of the Parole Board.

The jury found Martinez guilty on bribery and conspiracy counts, but U.S. District Judge Franciso Besosa tossed out a second charge of conspiracy. Bravo was convicted on bribery, conspiracy, interference with interstate commerce and obstruction of justice charges.

The case stemmed from an existing federal corruption probe of former Senator Jorge De Castro Font, who pleaded guilty last year to 21 corruption charges related to a years-long scheme during which he took payoffs in exchange for favorable legislative action during his years in the Senate and House of Representatives.

De Castro Font is cooperating with authorities in the investigation in exchange for a lesser jail sentence.

(San Juan bureau; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Greg McCune)

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