Puerto Rico's Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila delivers a statement to gathered members of the media in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday, March 27, 2008. Gov. Acevedo Vila was charged with 19 crimes, including conspiracy to violate U.S. federal campaign laws, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and giving false testimony to the FBI. The indictment also charged 12 others associated with Acevedo's Popular Democratic Party as a result of a two-year grand jury investigation, acting U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila pleaded not guilty Friday to corruption charges in an alleged campaign finance scheme and was released on his own recognizance.
Hundreds of flag-waving supporters turned out to cheer Acevedo, who was fingerprinted and had his mug shot taken at the FBI's offices before appearing in front of a magistrate at the federal courthouse.
The governor sent a message of gratitude from inside the courthouse to his raucous supporters outside.
"We recognize the presence of the outraged Puerto Ricans here in defense of our people," he said. "We give them thanks and respect."
Acevedo appeared composed after the hearing, winking at reporters as he left the courtroom.
The governor, charged with 19 counts that carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years if convicted, is the first Puerto Rican governor to face federal charges since the island became a semiautonomous U.S. commonwealth in 1952. No trial date has been set.
Under a pretrial agreement, Acevedo will be allowed to travel outside the island after providing notice but must check in with federal authorities once a month by telephone.
A grand jury indictment accuses Acevedo and a dozen associates of illegally raising money to pay off more than $500,000 in campaign debts from his two terms as Puerto Rico's nonvoting delegate to Congress from 2000-2004.
Acevedo has denied any wrongdoing and accused U.S. authorities of launching a politically motivated attack.
The governor, who is up for re-election this year, said in a televised address Thursday that he will not resign.
"While I will vigorously defend my actions, my family and my honor, I will never let a politically motivated process distract me from the job I do for you," he said.
At a Thursday night meeting with members of his Popular Democratic Party, however, Acevedo agreed to do anything necessary — including resign — to keep the investigation from harming the organization, former party leader Miguel Hernandez Agosto said.
"That, to me, is a very serious, important and patriotic declaration," Hernandez said. "You cannot be more clear."
Acevedo's chief rival in November's gubernatorial election called on Acevedo to resign.
The governor "does not have the moral standing to govern the people and resolve this mess that he has gotten us into," said Luis Fortuno, the island's current nonvoting congressional delegate.
Acevedo's Popular Democratic Party supports maintaining Puerto Rico's semiautonomous relationship to the United States, while his rival wants the island to become the 51st state.
Acevedo had accused the Justice Department of targeting him for his criticism of a 2005 FBI raid in Puerto Rico in which a fugitive independence militant was killed. He also says he is being targeted for his opposition to the death penalty, which can only be imposed in the island for federal crimes.
Acting U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez and the head of the FBI in San Juan have denied any political motivation to the charges against the governor.
Associated Press writer Manuel Ernesto Rivera in San Juan contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS that Acevedo was fingerprinted and photographed at FBI offices.)