In a hotly contested 2004 general election that was reminiscent of the 2000 Presidential race, the Puerto Rico Elections Commission (CEE) declared Popular Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila the winner. Yet, information has come to light that points to the possibility that the governor may have been elected due to the power of a prison gang.

Unlike the U.S. Penal Code, which prohibits convicted felons from voting in U.S. elections, Puerto Rico’s laws allow prisoners to vote. According to confidential sources, in the 2004 gubernatorial election, Puerto Rican prison gangs pressured the commonwealth’s 14,000 inmates to vote for Acevedo Vila, afraid that his rival Pedro Rossello would upset the balance of drug trafficking and corruption among correctional officers and police that had become the status quo.

With incumbent Vila defeating New Progressive Party candidate Pedro Rossello by slightly over 3,000 votes, the Puerto Rico Herald noted that State Elections Commission President Aurelio Gracia “ordered that the 3,036 disputed prisoner votes be counted. PDP Elections Commissioner Gerardo Cruz estimates that 60% of those votes are for Acevedo Vila. The PDP attributes the votes to the prisoners’ reaction to Rossello’s campaign comments implying that he might deny the vote to them if elected.”

In fact, the notorious Neta prison gang not only allegedly swayed the election, but the gang’s leader was also subject to a federal grand jury investigation into an alleged contract between he and Puerto Rico’s Department of Corrections. According to government sources, the contract was one that guaranteed that prison officials would overlook heroin trafficking in exchange for the prisoner vote.

Despite a 2003 Federal Bureau of Investigation indictment against 18 people – including Neta gang members – alleged to have “conspired to purchase multi-kilogram quantities of heroin, cocaine and detectable amounts of marijuana to be smuggled and then distributed into prison institutions within Puerto Rico,” prison gangs continued to peddle drugs and to have unprecedented influence within the Puerto Rican prison system.

Despite sting operations that uncovered active drug trafficking participation by scores of police and correctional officers, prison gang members continued to use prisoner drug addiction and rioting as their primary tools in controlling the prison population and negotiating with authorities. And, according to government sources, that’s precisely why the gangs and many prison officials had a significant stake in shutting down and keeping out prison rehabilitation programs.

The Second Chance Program (www.secondchanceprogram.net) was one such rehabilitation effort that was shut out of the Puerto Rican prison system, despite its resounding success. Designed to rehabilitate criminals and prevent them from re-entering the penal system, the program worked within the Puerto Rican prison system for a year and a half, with approximately 250 inmates enrolled in the program. When the inmates were drug tested after participating in the program, 87 percent were found to be drug-free. According to an inmate, an August 2004 bust of $1 million worth of heroin was attributable to the Second Chance Program’s pressure to reduce the use of the drug in the prison. That same source reported that the Bayamon Prison hospital is the central distribution center for heroin in that region’s prisons. “The heroin was smuggled in and then distributed by the inmates who came to the hospital from all over the region,” he said.

Another inmate source confirmed the report, and added that the Neta gang put pressure on the Secretary of Corrections not to renew the contract with Second Chance as a final payment for the inmate vote. “It went down just like that,” he said. “Second Chance was out of there, and the PDP won the election.”

About the Author

Kris Nickerson is the Editor-in-Chief of Press Direct International (www.pressdirectinternational.org), a global information website that provides reliable information tailored to professionals in financial, media, and corporate markets. His thorough knowledge of industries ranging from health care and travel to real estate and financial investing enables him to quickly grasp the nuances of emerging markets and technologies.