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Puerto Rican Officials Detail Orlando Man's Role In
By Iván Román
March 24, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Jesus Emilio Rivera Class enjoys all the trappings of
A lakefront house in a gated Orlando community. Five other luxury homes in Puerto
Rico. A thriving business. And a shiny new yellow Porsche.
The latest in his car collection, the Porsche is just one of many of his expensive toys.
But the gravy train that helped him buy the sports car is stalling as federal authorities
lay out his part in a $4.3 million extortion and money-laundering scheme in Puerto
Rivera Class, investigators charge, landed about $82 million in Puerto Rico
government contracts since 1996 in exchange for more than $1.5 million that he gave
to corrupt government officials for the work.
The computer whiz landed more contracts than any of the 12 businesspeople
indicted in the extortion and money-laundering conspiracy headed by former Puerto
Rico Education Secretary Victor Fajardo.
Prosecutors say about $1 million in tainted money from the scheme went to support
the New Progressive Party's failed 2000 re-election bid.
As the scandal unfolded, Gov. Sila Calderon canceled Rivera Class' remaining
contracts and cut off the money.
But the governor herself was caught flat-footed after discovering that her own
campaign manager had taken Rivera Class to meet Fajardo's successor to secure
more contracts under Calderon's Popular Democratic Party, which touts its image of
Calderon quickly shut him down.
"We've always been worried about how 'political investors' were taking care of
business," said former Senate President Charlie Rodriguez, who led campaign-
finance reform efforts four years ago. "They'll become Nazis if the Nazis come to
power. . . . What matters to him is how to buy enough influence to get that contract."
The scandal laid bare what one analyst called a ring of "organized thievery," with
business and government using education improvements as a guise to promote their
partnership and line their pockets.
For the first time, it threatens to directly taint a political party here. In terms of buying
political access, it was like Enron on steroids.
During the past six years, Rivera Class apparently was able to buy a lot of access.
While he will not comment on the scandal and has pleaded not guilty to charges of
extortion and money laundering, he emerges as a central figure in a federal
investigation that shows how one man forged a very lucrative alliance with the
From his working- and middle-class beginnings in the small city of Catano across the
bay from Old San Juan, Rivera Class, 51, entered the computer and programming
world in the 1970s.
He made his way through the field and became sales manager at the programming
and database-services giant GM Group, which he eventually left to branch out on this
"He always wanted to have his own business and be his own boss," said Julio
Pascual, president of GM Group. "We had no complaints about him. We never would
have imagined all this that is coming up now. He was a good salesman."
Rivera Class' star seemed to shine brighter once government money came into the
picture. The previous administration, the pro-statehood New Progressive Party,
jumped at any chance to reduce big government, sell public assets and contract out
whatever services it could. And businesspeople such as Rivera Class quickly
stepped in to fill the void.
Besides property and money in offshore accounts in Tortola in the British Virgin
Islands, he now owns five exclusive homes in the San Juan metropolitan area --
including one in the tony San Patricio area that authorities say he planned to "sell" to
Fajardo for $750,000 in laundered federal funds.
In 1995, he also bought a $300,000 home in Orlando, where several cars appear
registered over the years -- including two white Chevy Corvette sport coupes and a
purple Chevy Corvette convertible. The 2002 Porsche he drives around now was
registered last Halloween.
His alleged participation in the scheme that has tainted NPP politicians surprised
many on the island, particularly considering his family's strong connection with the
rival Popular Democratic Party.
In decades past, his mother, Bienvenida Class Claudio, was a longtime PDP leader
in Catano, where the family bought some homes in the center of town and eventually
ended up owning an off-track-betting business. She also was a secretary for former
PDP Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon, who held office for 12 years in the 1970s, 1980s
and early 1990s.
Hector Luis Acevedo, an elections-law professor and PDP stalwart, vaguely
remembers Rivera Class during the 1980 campaign when he volunteered to set up
the computers at PDP headquarters.
"Afterwards, I didn't see him again," said Acevedo, who became the party's elections
commissioner and occupied several top positions until he ran for governor in 1996.
"He wasn't the head of a company or anything. He could have participated in some
event years later, but I don't remember him being around."
A relative who refused to be interviewed for this story said everyone in the family was
surprised to hear the news. That includes Class Claudio, who appears in government
records as president of ER Pro International -- a company, investigators say, that her
son used to funnel $27,500 to pay some NPP bills.
The scheme, detailed in a 35-page federal indictment, features a complex web of
shell companies, fake invoices, extortion "quotas," bogus contracts and messengers
carrying cash and checks -- all designed to hide, launder and steal government
money that paid for NPP expenses or went into ringleaders' pockets.
Fajardo, who has pleaded guilty, kept more than half of the $4.3 million stolen and
stashed much of it in a safe in his agency offices, which he carted off to his exclusive
Tintillo Hills neighborhood home one evening after the NPP lost the election in
November 2000. Investigators describe cash flowing freely with some NPP
operatives or just greedy officials using Fajardo's stash as an automated teller for the
party or for themselves.
And for years, they kept the cash coming in. Fajardo and his deputy, Jose Omar Cruz
Mercado, who is godfather to Fajardo's child, "negotiated" with contractors about
extortion payments, sometimes demanding a 10 percent kickback. Fajardo's "right-
hand woman," Maritere Perez Huertas, carted the cash, checks and fake invoices
among the ringleaders, contractors and NPP officials yet to be publicly identified.
Contractors also were made to pay real NPP bills for things such as sound
equipment, stages and lighting used at political rallies, as well as 100,000 Christmas
cards former Gov. Pedro Rossello sent out in 1996 to the tune of $29,200,
investigators say. The ringleaders created two shell companies to funnel and
distribute money from contracts that Fajardo himself would award and deposit from
the extorted contractors.
Rivera Class was at the top of that list. How he ended up entering Fajardo's inner
circle is unclear. After incorporating ER Pro under his mother's name in 1994, he
registered Quality Educational Services Inc. with the Puerto Rico State Department in
1996. According to the indictment, he also co-owns Pro Data Services with indicted
contractor Eduardo Fuertes Pasarell, who reportedly is a good friend of Rossello's
and appears, along with various relatives, as having made legal campaign donations
to the NPP.
Since 1996, Quality and Pro Data received $44 million and $37 million in contracts,
respectively. Quality installed computers in classrooms and programs used to teach
English, Spanish and math to elementary-school children. Cesar Rey, who now runs
the Education Department, said the current $10 million contract's cancellation won't
affect the 45,000 parents and 39,000 teachers and principals undergoing training
now, and the department itself will continue the work.
After he took over the Education Department and its $2.4 billion budget in January
2001, Rey held up $20 million in payments that Fajardo had approved to Pro Data.
His decision followed an audit that discovered Pro Data computer programs designed
to teach Spanish were sitting in a warehouse and not installed in the schools'
Teachers are now encouraged to submit proposals directly to the Education
Department for money that had been reserved for outside contractors such as Rivera
Class during the Rossello years.
"The schools themselves should be given the chance and not someone who doesn't
know the challenges faced in that school," said Milagros Hernandez, the
department's director of the San Juan region. "More money would go to serving the
Too much of the money before, it turns out, went to gifts.
Investigators say contractors tried to please the ringleaders with artwork, expensive
flatware, a Chevrolet Corvette, jewelry, trips to New York City and a golf bag with
Fajardo's name embroidered on it.
Among all the shady dealings, though, one transaction stands out.
Fajardo and his sister-in-law Maria Ramos were looking for a place to open a new
business. In June 2000, Fajardo told investigators, Rivera Class offered to sell him
his San Patricio home to be paid for with stolen Education Department money that
Rivera Class himself had deposited into an offshore account in Tortola.
According to the indictment, Rivera Class then asked Fajardo's sister-in-law to
prepare a false invoice so he could cut a $750,000 check to National Consulting
Services, one of the shell companies that Fajardo and Ramos had set up.
When zoning problems prevented them from establishing a business at the site, the
money went back to a Puerto Rico account, sending up red flags to investigators who
had been tracking it.
At his Jan. 30 bail hearing in San Juan, prosecutors said Rivera Class had several
properties and money in Tortola and counseled Fajardo and Cruz Mercado on how to
hide U.S. money in offshore accounts there.
Wearing a navy-blue suit and large sunglasses, a grim-faced Rivera Class had no
comment as reporters followed him out of the federal courthouse.
Six of the 17 defendants already have pleaded or are planning to plead guilty. Among
them are Fajardo and Cruz Mercado, who are still cooperating with authorities to get
reduced sentences. Fajardo already has returned $1.2 million in cash and has
another $1 million to go.
Perez Huertas, the so-called "right-hand woman" in the scheme, has pleaded not
Rivera Class cooperating
Rivera Class is out on $250,000 bail connected with the federal case. However, he
has been given immunity from Puerto Rican authorities and is cooperating with their
The island's justice secretary, Anabelle Rodriguez, has taken a lot of criticism for the
immunity deal, which she has threatened to withdraw if she finds out that Rivera
Class lied about certain aspects of the $750,000 transaction.
Meanwhile, the federal investigation continues, and at least two more rounds of
indictments are expected.
"Only one third of what's in there has come to light," Rey said. "It's a tricky, complex
web of huge proportions."
Like the Enron bankruptcy scandal, the Fajardo scheme is fueling a push toward
reforming campaign finances in a more radical way than Washington's: complete
public financing of campaigns. Although that may drive down anxieties about raising
campaign funds, some say that by itself won't solve the problem.
Puerto Rico has a huge underground economy, which makes it easier to hide and
launder money. Officials are only now beginning to set up a more efficient way to
track political contributions and campaign expenses. Few effective IRS-type audits or
investigations, coupled with the growing use of offshore accounts, make hiding illegal
income a snap.
"This has no precedent in Puerto Rico, and it happened because these people felt
protected, that they were politically immune," said Celeste Benitez, a former
education secretary in a PDP administration.
That was their biggest miscalculation.
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