FBI agents in Puerto Rico have been receiving calls from “across the island” with residents complaining local officials are “withholding” or “mishandling” critical FEMA supplies — with one island official even accused of stuffing his own car full of goods meant for the suffering populace.
The accusations come in the aftermath of deadly Hurricane Maria, which devastated the U.S. territory last month.
“The complaints we’re hearing is that mayors of local municipalities, or people associated with their offices, are giving their political supporters special treatment, goods they’re not giving to other people who need them,” FBI Special Agent Carlos Osorio told Fox News.
Osorio, an agent with the FBI in San Juan, said the bureau was investigating the allegations.
“The U.S. Attorney has made it clear if anyone is caught mishandling FEMA supplies they will be prosecuted and could end up facing anywhere from 5 to 20 years in prison,” Osorio said.
Some of the claims have come by phone and others have poured in over social media, but the allegations stretch across the island.
Osorio told of one allegation where a party official is accused of pulling his own car around the back of a government building and driving off after loading it full of FEMA supplies.
“We’re going out and investigating these claims,” Osorio said. “We don’t know yet if they’re accurate or not…but yes we have received many similar allegations from people in many different parts of the island.”
The allegations of misconduct come amid a pitched back-and-forth between island officials and President Trump over the federal response to Maria.
San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a frequent Trump foil, reportedly accused Trump on Thursday of “genocide” for not doing more to aid in the relief efforts.
Cruz sent the accusation in a text message to Rep. Luis V. Gutirrez, D-Ill., who is of Puerto Rican heritage, The Washington Times reported.
Trump on Twitter has accused Cruz of poor management.
“…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help…” Trump wrote.
The president raised eyebrows Thursday morning by tweeting federal agencies, military officials and first responders couldn’t stay “in P.R. forever!”
Earlier Thursday, the Daily Caller reported the FBI was aware of misappropriation allegations in six of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities.
Rosa Emilia Rodriguez, a U.S. federal prosecutor on the island, told a local Puerto Rican radio station Monday she was investigating officials in the government — including mayors — regarding the misappropriation of supplies. Rodriguez, however, declined to name the government officials being looked at.
“Anybody that engaged in that kind of action whether civilian or representative should be looked at seriously because that’s unforgivable,” Rep. Adriano Espillat, D-N.Y., a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told The Daily Caller.
Fox News’ Madeline Farber contributed to this report.