Earlier this week, South Florida resident Emilio Ismael Vázquez pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with a scheme to ship emergency relief supplies to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. He faces up to twenty years in prison.
According to prosecutors, Vázquez posed as a member of the wealthy Serrallés family, owners of the Destilerías Serrallés that produces Puerto Rican rum Don Q, and convinced several business owners, activists and celebrities to collect hurricane donations, promising to pay to ship them to Puerto Rico. Vázquez then issued more than half a million dollars in fraudulent checks to rent warehouse space and charter cargo planes to deliver the donations to the island. When the companies he duped demanded cash payment, Vázquez pretended to be out of the country dealing with the unexpected death of his (non-existent) daughter. Although at least some of the donations collected by Vázquez were shipped to Puerto Rico, it is unclear if the aid was ever distributed to storm victims.
Vázquez fled South Florida in late 2017 only to be arrested in January 2018 by federal agents in Brooklyn. According to court documents, Vázquez had an outstanding arrest warrant in Orlando for violating his probation in connection with a separate fraud case. Vázquez reportedly fled the Orlando area in 2016 after paying his rent, and even attempting to purchase three houses, with bad checks.
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