- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AP) - A jury began deliberating the fate of Puerto Rico’s former governor on Friday as the monthlong corruption trial nears its end.

Anibal Acevedo Vila could face 20 years in prison if convicted on nine counts of campaign-finance violations that include conspiracy, money laundering and giving false testimony to the FBI.

He is the first governor to be charged with a crime since the island became a semiautonomous U.S. commonwealth in 1952.

Acevedo’s former adviser, Luisa Inclan, also stood trial and could face similar prison time if convicted on seven charges.

Authorities last year accused Acevedo and 12 of his associates of participating in an illegal scheme to pay off more than $500,000 in campaign debts.

One by one, the associates began to plead guilty and left only Acevedo and Inclan to stand trial. One co-defendant agreed to testify against Acevedo in exchange for having her charges dropped.

Prosecutors presented some 30 witnesses, while defense attorneys surprised the courtroom earlier this week when they rested their case without calling a single person to testify. Acevedo’s lawyers also urged the judge to dismiss the case for lack of evidence.

Judge Paul Barbadoro, who came from New Hampshire to hear the case and avoid a potential conflict for local judges, instructed the jury for two hours on Friday.

“The accused must not be found guilty on hunches or suspicion, but on direct and circumstantial evidence beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

Dozens of Acevedo supporters sang and prayed outside the San Juan federal courthouse as the jury deliberated.

Three months before the trial started, Acevedo lost a bid for a second term as governor to pro-statehood party candidate Luis Fortuno in one of the most lopsided elections in Puerto Rican history.

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