McALLEN – An unnamed Hidalgo County commissioner’s campaign manager used cocaine to buy votes in the 2012 primary election, the FBI said in court records filed last week.
The allegations came after the FBI arrested two politiqueras as part of an ongoing 18-month investigation into paying for dozens of votes with drugs and cash.
Veronica Saldivar and Belinda Solis, who worked as politiqueras – paid political campaign supporters who have been known to drive voters to the polls and even pay for votes – appeared Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Ormsby in McAllen. Ormsby set the women’s bond at $10,000 each.
The latest two arrests are part of an ongoing FBI probe that has led to criminal charges against at least three other politiqueras. No elected officials have yet to be charged in the case.
FBI investigators said a campaign manager, who worked for a Hidalgo County commissioner, bought $50 worth of cocaine – known as an eight ball – and split it up among the two women who then passed out “baggies” of the drug to sway people into voting for the commissioner in the 2012 primary election, according to a criminal complaint.
Besides cocaine, Saldivar, 42, told authorities that she handed out money, beer and cigarettes to almost 30 voters, the complaint states.
Only two candidates for a Hidalgo County commissioner slot ran during the primary election.
Pct. 1 Commissioner A.C. Cuellar Jr., who won that year with almost 57 percent of the vote, denied any involvement.
“All I can say is that it’s not me,” he said Monday. “I didn’t even have a campaign manager."
Joel Quintanilla, who was the incumbent of the Pct. 1 commissioner’s seat located in Donna, said he had no idea about the vote-buying.
“I don’t know these ladies,” he said, adding that he also did not have a campaign manager. “During our campaign meetings, we mentioned to our campaign workers that we wouldn’t even consider paying people for votes."
In the 2012 general election, the same campaign manager gave Solis $20 worth of cocaine and $40 in cash to obtain votes for Donna ISD school board candidates, the complaint states.
Solis, 39, told agents she paid three voters $10 each for their votes. She also told the FBI she paid her ex-husband $5 for his vote. And she gave another man a “dime bag” of cocaine for his vote, the complaint states.
Court documents did not identify the candidates or the campaign manager by name.
Three other politiqueras have been arrested in connection to the Donna school board vote-buying.
In December, FBI agents arrested Guadalupe Escamilla, Diana Castañeda and Rebecca Gonzalez after they used money, cigarettes and food in exchange for votes. All have since pleaded guilty and await sentencing.
Former board President Alfredo Lugo, who won re-election with three allies during that race, hanged himself on New Year’s Day, weeks after the arrests. The motive for his suicide was unclear but the timing sparked speculation that it could have been related.
Saldivar and Solis are set to appear in court again on Thursday.
If convicted, both face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.