Man arrested in Puerto Rico government chat scandal

©Agence France-Presse

Puerto Rico was rocked in the summer of 2019 by protests (pictured July 2019) demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello over leaked messages in which he mocked women, LGBT people, hurricane victims, journalists and other politicians

Miami (AFP) - The FBI arrested a man Wednesday for allegedly trying to extort $300,000 from  government officials in Puerto Rico to prevent the release of private messages that later pushed the island's governor to resign, authorities said.

The governor, Ricardo Rossello, stepped down in 2019 after hundreds of pages of incendiary messages on the app Telegram were leaked.

Sixto Jorge Diaz Colon, 52, faces federal charges including extortion and obstruction of justice for allegedly demanding government contracts in exchange for keeping secret the chats that sparked protests in the US Caribbean territory two years ago.

"Defendant Sixto Jorge Diaz Colon threatened and attempted to extort government officials for $300,000 and the awarding of government contracts," said W. Stephen Muldrow, the US attorney for the district of Puerto Rico.

Diaz Colon "threatened to use his influence as a member of the media and on behalf of two public relations firms to destroy the reputations of public officials if they didn't comply with his requests," the prosecution said in a statement.

According to the indictment, Diaz Colon, who worked for the Spanish Broadcasting System (SBS) conglomerate, told then-public affairs secretary Anthony Maceira in June 2019 that his contact had "overwhelming evidence to (damage) this Administration, starting with...(Rossello)". 

He then allegedly contacted Maceira for government contracts.

Weeks later, on July 8, local media released hundreds of pages of the explosive messages, in which Rossello and associates made fun of women, LGBT people, victims of Hurricane Maria in 2017, journalists and other politicians.

The scandal sparked protests in Puerto Rico and Rossello was forced to resign.

In the following days, according to the prosecution, Diaz Colon tried to blackmail Rossello and other officials with the disclosure of additional messages.

The deal did not materialize and the payments were not made, according to the indictment.

Diaz Colon faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.