One of his attorneys, Peter John Porrata, told CNN that Vazquez would plead not guilty to the charges.
Vázquez is the first former governor to face federal charges.
A former political consultant to Vázquez and the president of an international bank pleaded guilty to participating in the bribery scheme, according to a DOJ statement. A former FBI agent was also involved in the alleged scheme, according to federal officials.
From December 2019 to June 2020, the 62-year-old former governor allegedly conspired in a scheme with various people to fund her gubernatorial campaign, according to the DOJ.
Vázquez reportedly received more than $300,000 from two businessmen to fund political consultants during his campaign, Stephen Muldrow, U.S. District Attorney for Puerto Rico, told reporters Thursday.
Vazquez and others are charged with conspiracy, federal program bribery and honest services wire fraud.
The ex-governor is named in three of the seven counts and faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
“The alleged system of corruption has reached the highest levels of the Puerto Rican government, threatening public confidence in our electoral processes and governance institutions,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. said in a statement.
The bribes were allegedly paid in exchange for Vázquez’s appointments to the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions that benefited businessmen involved in the scheme, Muldrow said.
Vázquez is scheduled to appear in US District Court in San Juan on Thursday.
A former justice secretary, Vázquez served as governor of the U.S. territory from 2019 to 2021. His appointment came after disgraced former governor Ricardo Rosselló was forced to resign following island-wide protests against his government.
She became Justice Secretary in January 2017 – with a mandate that included fighting corruption on the island – and was an ally of Rosselló.
In 2018, Vazquez came under fire for intervening on her daughter’s behalf in a case stemming from a home robbery. She was accused of violating government ethics laws. But a judge later ruled there was not enough evidence to arrest him.
Vázquez’s brief tenure as governor was controversial.
His ties to the disgraced former governor have drawn scrutiny. Critics have accused her of failing to investigate members of her own party, particularly Rosselló and her administration’s handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
In January 2020, Puerto Ricans took to the streets of San Juan demanding his resignation after Hurricane Maria supplies were found in a warehouse in the town of Ponce, more than two years after the storm.
Later that year, Puerto Rican officials confirmed that Vásquez was being investigated on suspicion of mismanagement of resources intended to mitigate earthquake damage on the island.
Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi, who was elected governor after Vásquez, said Thursday, “Under my administration, there is zero tolerance for corruption.”
“Today we see once again that no one is above the law in Puerto Rico,” Pierluisi, a member of the same pro-commonwealth party as Vásquez, said in Spanish via Twitter.
The arrest “certainly affects and tears the confidence of our people,” the governor said.
“I reiterate that in my administration, we will continue to stand united with federal authorities against anyone who commits wrongdoing,” the governor said.
“Wherever it comes from and whoever it involves, as well as promoting initiatives and following up on the bills I have introduced to fight corruption,” he said.
In 2019 Rosselló chose Pierluisi as his successor.
Vázquez was then sworn in. “In light of the decision of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, I must stand down and support Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Justice,” Pierluisi said in a statement at the time.
Pierluisi went on to win election for the seat in November 2020.