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Puerto Rican Corruption Case Ends

June 15, 1999 GMT

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ A federal jury convicted three people of stealing $2.2 million of federal funds meant for AIDS patients Monday, capping the latest in a series of sensational trials that have embarrassed Puerto Rican politicians.

Yamil Kouri, 63, Jeannette Sotomayor, 58, and Armando Borel, 53, all former administrators of the now-defunct San Juan AIDS Institute, were convicted of funneling funds into fake companies between 1989 and 1994.

Testimony and tape recordings played during the trial have raised allegations that much of the money was funneled into political campaigns, including the 1992 campaign of Gov. Pedro Rossello, who took the witness stand to deny the charges.

The misuse of federal funds is an especially charged issue because residents of this U.S. territory pay no federal taxes _ while receiving $11 billion in federal aid a year.

The case also sparked widespread outrage on an island where the HIV rate is relatively high. AIDS patients and their families who had sought treatment in vain demonstrated in front of the federal courthouse throughout the 58-day trial, demanding convictions.

``I’ve come here to thank God that justice was done,″ said Maria Correa, 47.

Those convicted each could face up to 25 years in prison. They will be sentenced Sept. 30.

Nine others _ including prominent doctors, lawyers, accountants and community leaders _ have been indicted in the fraud scheme. U.S. prosecutors say they are planning at least two more trials.

In one of many bombshells during the two-month trial, the Majority Whip in Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, Jose Granados Navedo, testified that he took a cardboard box stuffed with $100,000 for his 1988 mayoral campaign from an AIDS Institute doctor who is to be tried in a later trial.

Last week, Judge Jose Fuste revoked Kouri’s bail and ordered him imprisoned after he allegedly tampered with a witness. One of the defense’s star witnesses testified that Kouri told her to lie in court and say she had received money that was actually funneled into a dummy corporation.

Prosecution witness Angel Corcino, the institute’s former comptroller, testified earlier that Rossello demanded and accepted $250,000 of the money for his 1992 gubernatorial campaign. He also said other politicians took Institute money.

Sotomayor was secretly recorded by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents bragging to her maid about making cash donations to Rossello’s campaign in return for political influence.

The governor denied the allegations and has not been charged.

The trial is the latest in a flurry of corruption cases.

Gil said prosecutors were aware the AIDS case targeted some of Puerto Rico’s most powerful and privileged. ``Getting to this type of person is difficult.″