Let’s get to the bottom of the corruption with these overpriced contracts. Were the contracts funneled to PNP supporters?
Testing kits: Apex and 313 LLC called to testify
They will have to explain the sales process
Monday, May 11, 2020 – 11:58 AM
Juan Maldonado de Jesús is due to return to the Capitol today, no longer as the House and Senate legal advisor he once was, but to account for his role in the scandal related to the purchase of a million coronavirus testing kits from Apex General Contractors, a small construction company where he served as a lawyer.
On April 5, when El Nuevo Día revealed that irregular purchase process, Maldonado de Jesús assured this newspaper that his participation in the transaction had been limited.
Testimony after testimony in the House Health Committee – which is investigating the transaction – point, instead, that he was the only person who handled the negotiations for Apex from start to finish.
The House committee also called Ricardo Vázquez Hernández, also a former legislative advisor to Representative Eric Correa Rivera in 2012. Lawmakers will ask Vázquez Hernández, also a lawyer, about the two transactions, totaling $3.6 million, made by the Health Department with 313 LLC to buy more than 100,000 COVID-19 serological tests. The Health Department and the company have in a legal dispute related to that transaction.
Although they have no known professional or legal ties, they have often moved in the same New Progressive Party (PNP) circles and have related to the same people, at different times.
While Maldonado de Jesús´s career shows him in and out of public service, Vázquez Hernández has remained in the private sector. Both are, somehow, related, to several corporations registered as active in the State Department.
They both have, at least, business relationships with Juan Suárez Lemus, one of 313 LLCs managers, according to the State Department’s register of corporations.
Both Vázquez Hernández and Suárez Lemus stressed that they had no relationship with Apex General Contractors.
“Grupo Lemus has no relationship with Apex General Contractors or its president, Robert Rodríguez,” Suárez Lemus said April 7. “Grupo Lemus is not involved in any business or transaction related to the sale and distribution of rapid tests for the diagnosis of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, nor in any other jurisdiction,” he added.
Vázquez Hernández and Suárez Lemus are part of the Grupo Lemus consulting firm. Maldonado de Jesús also worked for Grupo Lemus, in his case, until July 2019 according to Suárez Lemus, or until December of that year according to him. When this scandal exploded on April 5, Maldonado de Jesús´ LinkedIn profile said that he was “a partner of Grupo Lemus.” He immediately changed that.
Maldonado de Jesús’ name does not appear in the documents on the sale of the one million coronavirus serological testing kits for a total of $38 million – which was agreed upon in less than 24 hours on March 26 – nor does the name of Robert Rodríguez López, owner of Apex appear. The only name that in the documents is that of Aaron Vick, a maritime entrepreneur who says that although he provided his electronic signature to Maldonado de Jesús via text message on March 26, he did not authorize its use in any contract for the sale of coronavirus tests.
An important trace
However, Maldonado de Jesús left an important trace in the documents that helped find him and bring him out of anonymity, where he reportedly intended to remain throughout this transaction: his cell phone number.
This lawyer claimed that he was only a legal advisor for this company, which had previously held government contracts for construction services, maintenance, and installation of air conditioners.
Maldonado de Jesús verified and certified one of those contracts in 2017 when he was a legal advisor to the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP, Spanish acronym), an agency where he later became undersecretary.
The relationship between Maldonado de Jesús and Suárez Lemus dates back at least to 2006 when both worked for Alternate Concepts Inc. (ACI), the private company managing the Tren Urbano. Maldonado de Jesús was a lawyer in that company while Suárez Lemus was the company’s chief financial officer (CFO). Both left that company years ago.
Also in 2006, Suárez Lemus and Maldonado de Jesús appear as incorporators of a community-based organization called Forever Young Lifestyle Resort, which is still active and whose purpose is to provide housing and other services to older adults.
Maldonado de Jesús was their resident agent since the company established in 2006 until the last State Department report in 2018. No corporate resolutions have been filed with the Department of State indicating that he does not serve in that position. However, Mayra López Mulero, Maldonado de Jesús’ lawyer, said her client is no longer part of that organization.
She also said Maldonado de Jesus’ task, as resident agent, is limited to receiving documents and has no interference in operations.
Meanwhile, Suárez Lemus said that “this corporation did not have any kind of operations or business since it opened.”
Their history as entrepreneurs
Since 2005, Maldonado de Jesús and his wife, Jessica Morales Ruiz – who has a career position at the Integrated Transportation Authority (ITA) and was, until last year, a senior manager in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – have been involved with corporations and limited liability companies to offer different services, including luxury portfolios, real estate, and energy.
Between February and October 2005, the couple registered four corporations: Malmor Enterprises, Sourcetek Inc., La Madeline Paris, and Duo J&J, which later changed its name to Alpha Omega Development. None of them is currently active.
In 2007, Maldonado de Jesús worked for the Metropolitan Bus Authority (AMA, Spanish acronym), which he later left. In 2009, he created the professional corporation Maldonado Law Offices, which provided counseling services to former Senator Roberto Arango between 2009 and 2011.
In May 2011, with the 2012 election ahead, he registered the non-profit corporation Stars N Stripes Statehood, to carry out pro-statehood activities. From December 2011 through November 2012, he also provided legal advice to former House Speaker Jenniffer González, as detailed in her LinkedIn profile. González recently said she is the godmother of one of the daughters of this former House advisor, but said they haven’t spoken since last summer.
In March 2013, Maldonado de Jesús registered the company Premium Aggregates, and in May 2016, Gem Investments LLC for real estate rentals.
Both companies are active, but it was not possible to determine what activities they carry out.
In 2017, Maldonado de Jesús worked for the DTOP and, the following year was appointed to head the Maritime Transport Authority (ATM). In February 2019, he resigned from that public entity when it became public that he used one of the boats intended to Vieques residents to carry materials for a private wedding.
In his 2018 resignation report, submitted to the Government Ethics Office, Maldonado de Jesús reported zero debt and said he has $264,318 in assets. Most of those – $260,000 – fall under the category of furniture, art, and jewelry. His assets increased by $93,000 from his 2016 report to the OEG. He does not report having a car or a residence under his name.
By 2019, he registered Next Stage Solar LLC, where he was president & CEO. However, on April 13, 2020, after the failed Apex purchase was revealed, the company issued a resolution confirming attorney Fernando José Molini Vizcarrondo as president and the law firm Sánchez Pagán y Ferrer as resident agent, as recorded in the State Department’s register of corporations.
In July 2019, they registered Island Grown company to cultivate cannabis, with Maldonado de Jesús as its resident agent and Juan Buso as manager.
Meanwhile, Vázquez Hernández, registered 313 LLCs and four other different companies this last four years: Galaxy Games LLC, to provide technology consulting services; Vertical Consulting, which would provide business consulting and support services; Vertical LLC, for commercial, financial and management services; and Vertical Management Group, for legal advice.
Through an agreement with the Trade and Export Company (CCE, Spanish acronym) Vertical Management Group was granted exemptions in the payment of taxes on income, municipal patents, and movable property for three years.
This incentive is part of the Young Entrepreneur Incentives and Financing Act, which grants these benefits to residents of Puerto Rico between the ages of 16 and 35. Vázquez Hernández confirmed the information and noted that his corporations have not had government contracts.