Since 1997, I have worked to advance the quality of public education. In my 22 year career in education, I have worked as a guidance counselor, teacher, school administrator, district superintendent, state chief, and federal programs official. My work was my life and my life was my work. There were never enough hours in the day to advance the cause of improving teaching and learning or making sure that struggling students did not fall through the cracks. I believe that access to a quality education can level an often uneven playing field.
In 2017, I accepted the nomination as Secretary of Education in Puerto Rico. I was motivated by the high expectations I had ( and continue to have) for public education in Puerto Rico and a belief that, with effort and dedication, broken systems can be transformed. My goal was to create a sustainable and fiscally responsible system that ensured every child had access to a high quality public education.
While my expertise in education was not questioned, I was seen as an outsider who lacked sufficient personal connection to Puerto Rico. For 28 months I worked tirelessly to transform a historically failed system plagued by corruption, political favoritism and a lack of transparency. I made difficult decisions, confronted harsh realities and spoke the truth. I took action to address the island’s debt crisis, right-sized the education system, purchased text books for the first time in 10 years and provided access to technology and computers. I also oversaw the use of schools as shelters during and after Hurricane Maria, and led the implementation of a historic education reform bill.
My work was not without its critics. I upset the status quo. I demanded transparency, accountability and professional competence. At every turn, I made the best decisions I could to faithfully execute the responsibilities I had accepted. I put the interests of the students above the interests of adults. I applied best practices and drew on advice and recommendations from experienced leaders across the United States.
But in the end, my ambitious reform efforts were no match for the strong forces that sought my undoing.
On July 10, 2019 I was indicted by the federal government on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy and theft. The indictment states that I did not benefit from any of the alleged wrong doing.
I adamantly proclaim my innocence and affirm that I never knowingly committed any act that would be considered illegal, immoral or improper.
Given the gag order on the case, I cannot comment on the facts. I do invite you to review the public record for additional information about the case and pretrial motions.
As a result of the indictment and my subsequent arrest:
- I have not been able to work or earn income in the profession to which I have dedicated the entirety of my adult life
- I have been forced to sell my primary residence and the residence I purchased while living in Puerto Rico
- I have used the entirety of my life savings and will spend all that is in my retirement account on my defense, which is likely to exceed 1 million dollars.
- I’m now living with my parents, who do not have the resources to support my defense.
As a result, I am forced to seek support from friends and others who might care about my situation and be willing to provide financial support.
A federal indictment has proven to be one of the most destructive forces I have ever experienced. It pains me to see that despite my innocence, my entire life’s work – as well as my reputation and professional network – have been destroyed. The incorrect information presented in the press suggest one is guilty until proven innocent, rather than innocent until proven guilty.
United States v Keleher, et al was presented by the US Attorney as a public corruption case. It has been cited as a prime example of the corruption that plagues public administration in Puerto Rico. Those citing the case never mention that there is no claim that I benefited personally, financially or in any other way from the alleged acts.
Additionally, the unsubstantiated allegations do harm not only to me but the image of Puerto Rico and its ability to rightly access federal funds.
Engaging lawyers who have the experience and expertise necessary to demonstrate my innocence and the weakness of the government’s case is an expensive necessity. After having drawn on all the resources available to me, I simply do not have sufficient funds to pay for my defense.
This experience has been humbling and humiliating. There are many sleepless nights, anxiety filled days and periods of depression that steal hope and create paralysis. But it has not broken my spirit. When this is over, I will leverage what I have learned through this process to help others who need to find a way to make it through another day when their worlds have been shattered.
I’ve always been quick to lend others a helping hand, but I have never been one to seek help. However, my current situation leaves me no choice but to seek assistance. Legal fees for the case are expected to exceed 1 million dollars. After applying the entirety of my personal assets, I will need to raise about $600,000 to cover projected costs.
All donations will be held in a trust fund which will be managed by an independent Trustee. Your donation will be used to cover the costs of my defense and case-related activity. Donors will remain anonymous and donations are not deductible as charitable contributions.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about my situation and for considering supporting my legal defense. I would be forever grateful for whatever support you might be able to provide.
Julia B. Keleher