Holyoke City Councilor Wilmer Puello-Mota extradited to Rhode Island in child porn case

  • WILMER PUELLO-MOTA WILMER PUELLO-MOTA

Staff Writer
Published: 5/21/2022 10:58:50 AM

HOLYOKE — City Councilor Wilmer “Will” Puello-Mota has been extradited to Rhode Island, where he faces charges of allegedly paying for nude photos of a 17-year-old girl and new allegations of counterfeiting documents to mislead investigators in that case.

Puello was presented as a bail violator before a Kent County Superior Court judge on Thursday after he was successfully extradited from Massachusetts. Puello had been out on bail since January 2021 on a felony child pornography possession, but was rearrested in Westfield on May 11 after his bail was revoked for allegedly forging his military supervisor’s signature on a fraudulent military memo to Rhode Island prosecutors.

Puello is currently jailed without the possibility of bail in Rhode Island after he was charged with obstruction of justice as well as forgery and counterfeiting — violations of his bail conditions in the child pornography case. He will be back before a judge on June 2 for a bail violation hearing.

Police in Warwick, Rhode Island, have alleged that on May 30, 2020, they responded to a hotel room after Puello’s gun was reported stolen. There, police allege that a 17-year-old girl told them that Puello was her “sugar daddy” she had met online, and that Puello paid her for sexually explicit photos after he was aware that she was 17. Puello allegedly told police that he initially believed she was 22 and did not have sexual contact with her.

Puello was released on bail in that case, and he and his lawyers were reportedly seeking to have the case diverted or to have the charge converted to an offense that wouldn’t require him to register as a sex offender, pending his military supervisors’ acknowledgment of the case and support of his continued service, according to court documents. But Warwick police allege that Puello created a counterfeit memo on “Department of Air Force” letterhead, with the forged signature of his military supervisor, and sent it to prosecutors to mislead them.

Puello is the vice chair of the City Council’s Public Service Committee and sits on its Finance Committee. He has been absent from all City Council meetings since May 10, when he was present at a Public Service Committee meeting.

That raises the question of how the City Council plans to address his absence. Ward councilors are typically those who advocate on neighborhood issues brought to them by their constituents, with councilors from other parts of the city relying on their knowledge of what their neighbors want.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the full City Council, At-large Councilor Jose Maldonado Velez attempted to raise the issue.

“I feel like we owe the public at least some sort of discourse given what has happened with Councilor Puello,” Maldonado Velez said during the meeting. Council President Todd McGee, however, said at the meeting that nothing had yet come before the council, meaning there was nothing for the body to act on. McGee said that the council should let law enforcement handle the matter.

On Thursday, Maldonado Velez said in an interview that people in the community have been wondering what is going to happen next and that the council owes them an answer.

“What comes next? There’s a gap now,” he said. “How do we make sure that Ward 2 has a representative?”

Maldonado Velez said that as an at-large councilor, he already gets calls from across the city’s seven wards and will continue to help those in Ward 2 and elsewhere. He said that many people don’t even know who their ward councilor is in the first place; those residents end up contacting whoever they may know or recognize on the council regardless of their position.

Maldonado Velez noted that in 2018, Ward 2 councilor Nelson Roman resigned before his term was up, requiring the council to name his replacement. Last year, Ward 2 councilor Terence Murphy was named acting mayor — a job he had to balance while also serving as ward councilor.

And now, it’s unclear when, or if, Puello will be able to serve as Ward 2 councilor again. On June 2, a Rhode Island judge will determine whether he continues to be held without bail.

“I just want to make sure we have a representative that is there for the people,” Maldonado Velez said.

In a phone interview Friday, McGee said that the 12 other city councilors will step up to ensure that Ward 2 residents have their concerns heard and addressed while their councilor is absent. He said that councilors are always ready to help any resident, regardless of whether they are their particular ward’s councilor.

“Regardless of your ward and who you are, we have a really good group of councilors who advocate for everybody,” he said. “If they have any issues whatsoever, they can reach out to any counselor to help.”

McGee said that so far, he is not aware of any resignation letter from Puello or any orders filed by councilors calling for his resignation or removal. The City Council does not have a recall procedure by which a member can be removed.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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