U.S. News

U.S. Supreme Court takes up Puerto Rico bribery case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider a former Puerto Rico state senator’s claim that he cannot be retried on corruption charges involving a trip to Las Vegas to watch a boxing bout after his original conviction was thrown out.

The court said it would hear an appeal filed by Hector Martinez Maldonado, who served in Puerto Rico’s Senate from 2005 until his 2011 conviction, and businessman Juan Bravo Fernandez, the former president of a private security company.

Bravo Fernandez sought to bribe Martinez Maldonado in order to win passage of bills that would benefit his business, according to prosecutors. The case focused in part on allegations that Bravo Fernandez paid for Martinez Maldonado to travel to Las Vegas in 2005 to watch a boxing match involving Puerto Rican fighter Felix “Tito” Trinidad.

In 2011, both were convicted for their role in the alleged bribery scheme, but the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out their convictions in 2013.

Federal prosecutors said they would seek a new trial. But Martinez Maldonado and Bravo Fernandez said a new trial should be barred because it would violate the constitutional protection against “double jeopardy,” which prevents people from being tried on charges for which they already have been acquitted.

Their lawyers say double jeopardy applies because the jury had acquitted the two men of some of the criminal charges concerning conduct closely related to the actions on which the retrial would be focused.

The appeals court ruled in favor of the prosecution last year.

It is the third case concerning Puerto Rico that the Supreme Court has taken up recently. Last week, the justices heard oral arguments over the U.S. Caribbean territory’s bid to revive a law that would allow it to cut billions of dollars in debt at public utilities..

The court is also considering a second criminal case that concerns double jeopardy.

The case the court agreed to hear on Monday is Bravo Fernandez v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 15-537.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham