Emilio Vazquez, 47, of Coral Gables, Florida, was sentenced yesterday after pleading guilty in April in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to 120 months in prison, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release, for one count of wire fraud in connection with hurricane relief efforts for Puerto Rico. Vazquez was also ordered to pay $1,514,225.55 in restitution to the victims.
According to court records, shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Vazquez contacted volunteers in Miami who were collecting humanitarian aid for the island. He told them he was a millionaire from a wealthy Puerto Rican family, the Serralles family, who are the owners of Destileria Serralles, which distills, manufactures, bottles and distributes Don Q rum in Puerto Rico. Vazquez, using the name Emilio Serralles, claimed to have significant resources and the ability to rent warehouses, and charter planes and trucks to transport relief supplies. He offered to pay almost $1 million for the warehouses to hold the donations and the charter flights to send the aid. And he did — with fake checks, federal agents say.
According to the criminal complaint, Vazquez paid $122,050 with a fraudulent bank cashier’s check for the rent of several warehouses in Doral, where tons of hurricane donations from South Floridians were stored. He then delivered a fraudulent $564,036 check to Miami Air International for five charter flights to several airports in Puerto Rico, the complaint states.
When the banks notified the companies that the checks were fraudulent, it was too late. The last chartered flight had departed and most of the aid that arrived in Puerto Rico was stranded and spoiling at the airport. It is unknown whether any of the donations were distributed to the storm victims.
Vazquez has a long criminal history and, according to court records, at the time the offense was committed he was on probation for a separate fraud case out of Orange County, Florida, for which he was sentenced to 15 years.
Read the DOJ Press Release here: Coral Gables Resident Sentenced to Ten Years in Prison for Wire Fraud in Connection with Hurricane Relief Efforts for Puerto Rico