SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A jury acquitted Puerto Rico's former governor Friday on all nine counts including conspiracy, money laundering, and lying to the FBI, concluding his monthlong corruption trial in a case with Philadelphia ties.
Anibal Acevedo Vilá, who could have faced 20 years in prison if convicted, was the first governor charged with a crime since the island became a semiautonomous U.S. commonwealth in 1952.
His former adviser Luisa Inclan was also cleared Friday of similar charges.
The acquittal was a major blow to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which prosecuted the governor in an election year - likely contributing to his defeat in one of the most lopsided elections in Puerto Rican history. He had said the investigation was politically inspired.
Authorities last year accused Acevedo Vilá, a Democrat, and 12 associates of participating in an illegal scheme to pay off more than $500,000 in campaign debts.
Among those charged were Acevedo Vilá's former U.S. finance chairman, prominent Philadelphia fund-raiser Robert M. Feldman; Glen Mills dentist Cándido Negrón; Boothwyn executive Salvatore Avanzato Sr.; and Philadelphia businessman and lawyer Marvin I. Block.
The indictment alleged that the four men helped Acevedo Vilá evade finance laws. It alleged that Acevedo Vilá, Feldman, Negrón, and Block skirted the $2,000-per-person contribution limit in 2002 by funneling more than $100,000 to people in Philadelphia and South Jersey, who then "contributed" the money to Acevedo Vilá's campaign. At the time, he was Puerto Rico's nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives.
Feldman, Block, and Negrón pleaded not guilty, and their cases were transferred to Philadelphia. Avanzato pleaded guilty last year in Puerto Rico and is due to be sentenced May 21.
In November, Acevedo Vilá lost his bid for a second term to now-Gov. Luis Fortuno, a Republican. A month later, Judge Paul J. Barbadoro dismissed 15 of 24 charges against him, ruling that U.S. federal prosecutors had improperly interpreted election laws.
A grand jury had added new charges in August, indicting him on four counts of wire fraud and one of conspiracy to commit money laundering.