Neither the court case against Sixto Díaz Colón nor the Office of the Electoral Comptroller’s (OCE, in Spanish) audit revealed that of the $200,000 that D.R. Consulting billed the ex-governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares’s political Committee for media advisory services during the Summer of 2019, and aside from the convicted producer and his company Bee Global Media, the current executive director of the Perpetual Trust for Special Communities, Adolfo Rodríguez Burgos, and New Progressive Party (PNP, in Spanish) activist Félix Plaud de Choudens and his company VRAL LLC also got their share of the payout.
D.R. Consulting subcontracted producer Díaz Colón, Plaud de Choudens and Rodríguez Burgos to provide media services to the Rosselló Nevares political Committee — its only client — according to invoices and canceled checks obtained by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) through a source who requested anonymity. The trio received $99,500 paid to them or their companies.
The company gave those documents to the OCE in October 2019 as part of an agency investigation into payments the Rosselló Nevares political Committee made to the company. D.R. Consulting also submitted a report detailing the work it allegedly carried out on behalf of the ex-governor, such as the creation of a Facebook page under the name “Ricky No Te Quites,” “videos referring to forgiveness” and “a strong message by Pope Francis, talking about the need to continue fighting until the end.”
The OCE kept this report confidential, along with 38 pages of screenshots of the Ricky No Te Quites group, and other documents related to D.R. Consulting, alleging that there is an investigation that the Department of Justice began more than two years ago and has not yet concluded. In late April, Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli told the CPI that his agency is carrying out an investigation that began after complaints on the television program Jugando Pelota Dura. The San Juan Superior Court, where the CPI turned to, ordered the OCE to deliver the supporting documents related to the payments made by the Rosselló Nevares political Committee between July and September 2019, and which includes the two payments of $90,000 each to D.R. consulting.
Despite the court order, OCE did not provide the CPI with invoices and canceled checks from D.R. Consulting, as well as other documents it had about this company.
The OCE shared the information it received from D.R. Consulting with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, as part of the investigation that led to Díaz Colón’s extortion conviction in February 2023.
In addition to charging as a subcontractor, Díaz Colón orchestrated the contract between the Rosselló Nevares political Committee and D.R. Consulting and even collected the two checks, for $90,000 each, that the committee paid to the company, according to documents in the federal case obtained by the CPI. The company served as a means for the producer to provide the media services that he promised the former governor after the publication of the Telegram chat.
The CPI reached out to Díaz Colón through his legal representative but got no response at press time.
Initially, the OCE tried to figure out who was behind D.R. Consulting. The company seemed fake to the OCE, according to the explanations the attorney for that entity, Sarah Rodríguez de Jesús, gave to two FBI agents and to which the CPI had access through a source.
“This payment [to D.R. Consulting] was extremely high and irregular, and the Office of the Election Comptroller looked closer into this matter ,” says the report prepared by one of the agents who interviewed the legal director of the OCE. Later, Rodríguez de Jesús told the agents that the invoices that the company presented were unprofessional and most likely bogus . “The invoices did not detail the work performed, and were not formatted uniformly.”
D.R. Consulting had been registered six weeks before by Adolfo Rodríguez Burgos and Edwin Núñez González rendered their services, according to what Mayra González Morales, mother of the latter, and who appeared as president of the corporation, told the OCE. By then, Rodríguez Burgos and Núñez González were working for Rep. Antonio Soto Torres. Rodríguez Burgos was his chief of staff and Núñez González was the director of administration of the Special Joint Committee for Legislative Donations, which Soto Torres co-chaired, and where Rodríguez Burgos also served.
González Morales said Rodríguez Burgos, who now heads the Perpetual Trust for Special Communities, oversaw “everything except the company’s accounting” and billing to the Rosselló Nevares committee, according to a draft sworn statement that includes his statements to OCE auditors. The agency also withheld this document from the CPI, which got the information through a source.
According to a note by one of the auditors, González Morales did not want to sign this document because “she could add more things and she did not want to harm the Committee on how and why the payments were made.”
Despite this warning by the president of D.R. Consulting, the OCE never interviewed Rodríguez Burgos or Núñez González.
Rodríguez Burgos did not want to talk to the CPI for this story.
Núñez González said he did not work for the company and that he did not make any decisions, although he acknowledged that he handled the accounting, according to González Morales. When questioned by the CPI about the use of the money received by D.R. Consulting, he said he did not have the information on hand and that he would send an email to reply in writing, but as of press time, he had not shared the details.
The CPI also contacted González Morales, who said, “what was going to be said, the Electoral Comptroller has already been informed and there is nothing more to say here,” that she is “a private citizen” and that the corporation “is currently not operating.” The State Department’s Registry of Corporations shows the entity as active, even though it has not filed its reports with the State Department for the past three years.
The OCE investigation ended with fines amounting to $22,500 to the Rosselló Nevares political Committee, but none directly related to these invoices, and the obligation to restitute $177,150.
A bonanza for subcontractors
At the OCE’s request, D.R. Consulting offered a breakdown of how it used the $180,000 it charged from the Rosselló Nevares political committee. It only provided invoices from subcontractors that total around $100,000, while it claimed that there was still a balance of $3,400 in its bank account.
D.R. Consulting never explained how it spent the remaining $76,600 on. When the OCE asked about this money, the company said it incurred “additional expenses” such as food and the purchase of materials and equipment, but did not provide receipts, invoices or checks that validate these transactions or if it was used for payroll expenses.
Sixto George headed the list of subcontractors for D.R. Consulting, since he received more than $46,000 for creating a Facebook fan page, preparing communications, and advising Rosselló Nevares. His company, Bee Global Media, billed $14,500 for producing, publishing, and promoting content on social networks, for a communications “strategic plan” and for advising on “the narrative” that they should spread on social networks in favor of the former governor.
Plaud de Choudens received $20,000 to develop and reproduce messages alluding to Rosselló Nevares, generating content for social networks, and “recording moments to be considered for image development.”
Three sources the CPI consulted separately and who have run political social networks campaigns agreed that the cost of this type of work, in the case of a gubernatorial candidate, can range from $5,000 to $10,000 per month, and in many cases, it is done voluntarily. They explained that, ordinarily, these monthly fees include creating and managing pages and accounts, creating content and its publication in a strategic and scheduled manner.
D.R. Consulting’s subcontractors charged almost $80,000 for similar services, over two weeks.
Someone else who worked on Rosselló Nevares’ image during the Summer of 2019 was Rodríguez Burgos, who made $22,000 for “administrative consulting on the development of marketing concepts” and “development of creative ideas for effective communication.” He also oversaw establishing communications “with external resources and content for the development of digital platforms,” as well as generating “messages to be disseminated by the candidate, developing “strategies to promote the candidate” and analyzing “what was said on social, digital and written media about the candidate.”
In the same invoice, submitted on July 23, Rodríguez Burgos charged $11,056 for services rendered from July 13-22, 2019, for the committee, and billed another $11,056, for services rendered from July 23 to August 1, 2019. On July 19, 2019, D.R. Consulting wrote him a check for $10,000 and another for the same amount on July 24.
Rodríguez Burgos worked as a subcontractor for D.R. Consulting, while he also had a contract for $5,250 a month with Rep. Soto Torres, and another contract for the same amount as a consultant to the Special Joint Committee of Legislative Funds for Community Impact. On June 30, 2019, a contract of $2,000 a month that he had with the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao, signed by former rector Héctor Ríos Maury, expired, but was resumed in August of that year. Between 2009 and 2023, Rodríguez Burgos had contracts with the government of Puerto Rico for more than $1.2 million.
Both he and Núñez González worked for D.R. Consulting while Carlos Méndez, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, publicly warned Rosselló Nevares that he would initiate a process to oust him from his position as governor. Rodríguez Burgos worked directly on behalf of D.R. Consulting with the Rosselló Nevares political committee, as evidenced by a text message with Javier Oyola Alemañy, committee treasurer, asking him to sign a document.
“This guy [Rodríguez Burgos] called me and I honestly don’t know who he is. I don’t remember meeting him. I include the texts received,” Oyola Alemañy wrote the FBI, along with screenshots of the message that he got on his cell phone.
In the case of Plaud de Choudens, in addition to charging $20,000 for his work on social media, one of the companies he presides over, VRAL LLC, received $13,000 to print and place 500 leaflets and six banners in the metropolitan area.
The CPI contacted Plaud de Choudens for a reaction but got no response.
The great strategy: ‘Ricky No te Quites’
On July 18, five days after the Telegram chat was made public, the Ricky No Te Quites (Ricky don’t quit) group was born on Facebook, from which they published photos, videos, and messages in favor of Rosselló Nevares.
The objective was “to divert the solely attack directed at our product, in this case the Governor, getting the attention of hundreds of thousands of people,” the company stated in its report to the OCE.
In his interview with the FBI, Rosselló Nevares said he was not satisfied with the services he received from Sixto George through D.R. Consulting, which he deemed ineffective, and that he disallowed further payments to the producer from his political committee. He also admitted that, despite this experience, he maintained communication and even a business relationship with Sixto George after the Summer of 2019.
The first publication on Ricky No Te Quites is a video whose caption reads: “An indiscretion, and in private is REALLY worth more than the work you have done for our RETIREES?”
Between July 18 and July 30, the page published a dozen similar videos, highlighting the Governor’s achievements, such as implementing a registry of government lobbyists, changes to AutoExpreso fines, granting permanence to temporary teachers and the opening of reversible lanes in the highway. It shared publications in support of Rosselló Nevares from other groups, such as ‘DCR Estadistas,’ ‘Amigos con Ricardo Rosselló’ and ‘Yo Apoyo a Pedro Pierluisi,’ and from the accounts of the former first lady, Beatriz Rosselló and attorney Roxanna Soto Aguilú. It called for events in support of Rosselló Nevares, such as the dress-in-blue day, under the hashtag #RickySeQueda (Ricky stays).
Pope Francis content is a video of a speech in which he says that the key to victory is never to stay fallen, together with the message: “Ricardo Rosselló has worked non-stop for our people in the hardest moments. Today more than ever we ask you #RickyNoTeQuites.”
The “related movies” videos are of boxer Rocky Balboa, winning after a fight against Apollo Creed, accompanied by a text: “There are people who need you, #RickyNoTeQuites.” There is another video with the scene of Rocky going up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but with Rosselló Nevares’s face instead of actor Sylvester Stallone, and the hashtag #RickyAguanta (Ricky hang on).
“That is propaganda. One thing is education and information, and another is propaganda,” said Marisa Vega, a professor of Public Relations. She explained that there is a difference between the persuasion of a public relations exercise and the manipulation that is often used in propaganda, as happened with the “Ricky No Te Quites” page.
“Public relations persuade and establish all the elements so that, when people do the analysis, they conclude what we as public relations professionals believe to be right. When you work with propaganda and manipulation, you remove elements or change them because if you give all the information, people aren’t going to choose what you are proposing,” Vega said.
The Facebook group published content questioning the reasons for the protests — an attempt to overthrow an elected government — and two days before leaving La Fortaleza, called for a demonstration in favor of Rosselló Nevares, at the Convention Center, with the hashtag #RickyRompeLaRenuncia (Ricky take back the resignation letter). Around 100 people showed up for the demonstration.
Rosselló Nevares’s departure did not end the publications on the page, which as of press time, remains open.
On September 7, 2019, once out of the governor’s office, a post with an image of goosebumps carried the message: “Ricardo Rosselló will return in 2020 as governor.” The description adds: “I get goosebumps just thinking that RR will again show that it was all cheap politicking from the left and the Popular Democratic Party. Let’s see where the hundreds of thousands are in November 2020 #playita #RickyNoTeQuites ❤️.”
The publications continued in the following months, some of them alluding to the Summer of 2019, such as an image published on May 17, 2021, which shows Rosselló Nevares urinating over different public figures, including the general coordinator of the Citizens Victory Movement (MVC, in Spanish), Manuel Natal; the president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP, in Spanish), Juan Dalmau; Artist Residente, and commentator Jay Fonseca. The image is accompanied by a message that reads “Take back your summer” and the hashtag #RickyRegresa (Ricky come back).
The page has other posts about how “communism in Puerto Rico” and “the leftist press” were responsible for the protests that led to the former governor’s resignation. Some of the images and videos refer to different political figures such as Natal, MVC Senators Rafael Bernabe and Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, and former MVC gubernatorial candidate Alexandra Lúgaro.
Two March 2019 invoices obtained by the CPI show payment by the Rosselló Nevares political Committee to CG Printing Group — $724.75 for 200 “Manuel Natal” and 200 “Lúgaro” flyers — and to Juan Tomassini — $700 for “SJ municipality promotion.”
The page also published information on events and messages from Rosselló Nevares after he was chosen as one of the Puerto Rico “lobbyists for statehood” before Congress in May 2021.
As recently as January 2023, the page republished two images of the former governor under the hashtag #RickyNoTeQuites.