EDINBURG — Two people recently accused of illegally voting in last November’s municipal election spoke out Wednesday amid news the investigation could result in more arrests.
The Texas Attorney General’s’ Office, which is investigating allegations of voter fraud that have already yielded four arrests, issued a press release Wednesday that warned it was looking into an “organized scheme” in Edinburg possibly involving more individuals.
“These arrests further demonstrate my office’s commitment to ensuring that the voting process is secure and fair in all Texas elections,” Attorney General Paxton stated in a news release. “Anyone who attempts to deprive the people of Texas of their voice by undermining the integrity of elections will be brought to justice and penalized by the full extent of the law.”
The announcement came just a day after Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina published a video accusing nearly a dozen of his opponents of illegally voting in recent and past elections and questioning the motives behind the investigation.
“I did get a lot of positive response, a lot of positive feedback from people who basically told me, ‘I’m glad you said what you said. I’ve always felt like that, but I’ve been too afraid of people retaliating against me,’” Molina said Wednesday about the eight-minute video. “Just to show you I don’t think they’re too far off from the truth, I got threats, and I’m the mayor. Can you imagine if you said something like that as a private citizen?”
Rudy Zamorano, who had strong words for the mayor on a social media post, was one of the voters Molina listed in his video. The mayor alleged that Zamorano and his family voted in several elections that encompass the Edinburg area but live in Alamo.
“What he perceives to be fraud, in his eyes, is a personal opinion and not a fact and should not be handled as public information to his constituents,” Zamorano said in a statement late Tuesday.
While he did not directly address the allegations against him, he accused Molina of being implicated in the investigation.
“This individual is pulling all strings to deflect from his own voter fraud investigation,” Zamorano said.
Investigators have not named anyone as as a target as the investigation continues and have not released any other details since four arrests were made last week.
Molina’s name, however, has been dragged into the conversation because of his perceived connections to two of the voters arrested last week by the Texas Rangers, who are also assisting in the investigation. One voter registered to vote using the address of an apartment complex the mayor owns, and the other was registered to vote by Molina himself.
“I think people are confused because what influence do you have with a voter once they are going in to cast their ballot,” the mayor said. “Zero, which means just because you registered them to vote doesn’t mean they voted for the person who you tried to tell them to vote for. They vote for whoever they want to.”
Zamorano believes the mayor should have handled the matter in “a professional manner with the proper authorities.”
Molina, however, said it was difficult for him to report the alleged crimes to Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez.
“It’s not that simple for me to go directly to the DA and say, ‘Your aunts and your first cousins broke the law. What are you going to do?’” he said. “It’s a very, very touchy situation. It’s not that easy.”
Zamorano is Rodriguez’s cousin, Molina said Wednesday, adding he believes the DA knows that his cousin lives in Alamo.
“He voted in my election,” Molina said. “He voted in the March election — (when) he lived outside of the precinct — and he voted in the runoff. So that’s three second degree felonies (based on) the way that they are drawing up the complaints for the four that have been arrested.”
Molina questioned whether Rodriguez’ familial ties to the people the mayor accused affected the DA’s judgement. In his video, Molina accused three of Rodriguez’s aunts of having people registered under their roofs who don’t really live there.
“How can you report people when you’re doing the same thing? I just didn’t understand that,” the mayor said. “These are the people who are crying foul. These are the sour grapes that lost the election. Yet they are the ones who are your key witnesses to the start of this investigation when they’ve done exactly what they are accusing other people of doing, which is registering from an address where they don’t live in and going to cast your ballot.”
Rodriguez, however, has strongly defended his office and the integrity of the investigation and the agencies leading it: the AG’s office and the Texas Rangers.
“We’re not playing politics with people’s lives,” Rodriguez said Tuesday. “That’s not what we’re about and that’s not what we do.”
Molina disputed the notion that the Texas Secretary of State’s Office had not received complaints until Tuesday.
“Those complaints were sent out a long time ago,” he said of the state office. “They just apparently never ended up in the right hands.”
Roland Villarreal, a former city council candidate whose wife was also accused of voting illegally, also spoke out Wednesday — just days after telling The Monitor he was glad his name had been kept out of the conversation.
Molina alleged that Roland Villarreal’s wife, Ashley Villarreal, is registered to vote in Edinburg using the address of a business in a commercial plaza in the city, which is not allowed under the Texas Election Code.
“Unfortunately, I do not have much to say other than I ran a positive, clean campaign in the 2017 city elections, and unfortunately I was not victorious in my efforts,” Villarreal said via text Wednesday.
The former Edinburg candidate, who ran in last year’s election against Edinburg council member Gilbert Enriquez, did not address the allegations against his wife, but instead thanked his family and friends for the support.
“All else, my family and I will leave (it in) God’s hands, as we did during the campaign, and as we have done since it ended,” Villareal wrote.