From: Ricardo Zuniga, Associated Press
Published October 22, 2004 12:00 AM

FBI and IRS Agents Search Offices of Striking Water Union in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents spent hours this week searching the offices of a water company union for documents pertaining to a medical insurance plan that has been the focus of a 17-day strike.

Union members stared as 60 agents blocked the streets surrounding the offices of the Authentic Independent Union in Puerto Rico's capital of San Juan while the search took place.

The agents asked for computer access codes for the files on the medical plan, and the union complied with the request, said Hector Lugo, the president of the union.

FBI and IRS officials said they had a search warrant but refused to comment further.

More than 4,000 Aqueduct and Sewer Authority workers have been striking since Oct. 4 to protest the company's decision to replace the union-run medical plan with a private plan.

Although the water service is not running normally, managers have stepped in to fill staffing gaps, and there have been few disruptions in the U.S. Caribbean territory.

The union plan was replaced after Puerto Rico's Insurance Commissioner's Office alleged that there were irregularities in its management.

Insurance Commissioner Dorelise Juarbe has ordered the union to return $11.7 million that she said was misused by the insurance plan's board of directors. Juarbe said that the money was used to underwrite salaries, purchase luxury vehicles for union officials, and for other excessive administrative charges.

Union officials deny the allegations.

The search forced the postponement of a planned round of negotiations with company officials, Lugo said.

Antonio Villafane, the union's vice president, accused the company of somehow being behind the search, calling it "a sort of repression against union leaders."

The company's president, Jorge Rodriguez, said he had nothing to do with the search.

"I don't have that power," he told local WUNO radio. "I'm not involved in this."

Source: Associated Press

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