SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A day after two former Puerto Rico government officials and four others were arrested as part of a federal corruption probe, Gov. Ricardo Rossello was engulfed in a furor over the release of profanity-laced text messages in which he lashes out at his foes.
The messages between Rossello and his top aides, published by the Primera Hora newspaper, threaten to further tarnish a government that's been battered by investigations and the collapse into a record-setting bankruptcy two years ago that's left it fighting with investors over its cash.
In one exchange, Rossello refers to the former speaker of the New York City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, a political ally of San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a chief Rossello rival, as a "whore." In another, the governor wrote "Dear Oversight Board – Go F--- yourself," referring to the federal panel he has clashed with over the broad financial power it wields over the U.S. territory.
Rossello's Secretary of Government, Ricardo Llerandi, confirmed the authenticity of the texts to local media earlier this week, before the most controversial of them were published Thursday. Messages left for the governor's spokesman and public affairs secretary weren't immediately returned. Rossello is scheduled to hold a press conference Thursday night.
Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress and a member of Rossello's pro-statehood party, wrote on Twitter that "the sexist expressions in the governor's group chat are offensive and unacceptable."
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, who chairs the House committee that oversees the island, called for Rossello to resign after the release of Wednesday's indictments, before the latest texts were released.
The latest scandal deals a fresh hit to Rossello's administration as he fights with the federal financial oversight board over his budget and President Donald Trump's administration over the release of aid to rebuild from Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico is in the midst of negotiations with owners of about $18 billion of the central government's debt, the last major chunk that it is seeking to have reduced in bankruptcy.
The release of the texts comes a day after the U.S. Justice Department announced the indictments of Rossello's former education secretary and health insurance administration director over government contract awards.
Last month, Rossello's treasury secretary, Raul Maldonado, was fired after disclosing alleged crimes in his own department during a radio interview, including influence peddling, issuance of fake licenses, destruction of documents and accessing privileged taxpayer records. Maldonado's son, Raul Maldonado Nieves, later called the governor "corrupt," claiming Rossello ordered the auditing firm BDO to change a report on Hurricane Maria aid that would have shown mismanagement in a relief effort involving his wife, Beatriz Rossello. The governor has strongly denied the allegations.
"You wonder what controls are in place," said Dennis Derby, who helps manage $39 billion of municipal debt, including about $2 million of Puerto Rico's sales-tax-backed bonds, as senior analyst and portfolio manager at Wells Fargo Asset Management. "Right now, it appears there were a number of conflicts of interest and that doesn't necessarily bode well for investor confidence."
For some, the drumbeat of crisis brought to mind the tenure of Rossello's father, Pedro Rossello, who served as governor from 1993 until 2001 and was also beset by a series of scandals and arrests.
"Since the 1990s, with the government of Rossello's father until today, this issue has been escalating," said Pablo S. Torres Casillas, a Puerto Rican historian and university professor. "The government, as an administration, is in a position of greater political weakness."
(Michelle Kaske contributed to this report.)
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