Edinburg mayor speaks out, lobs voter fraud accusations against opponents on social media

EDINBURG — The mayor released an eight-minute video Tuesday that questioned an investigation into voter fraud, while also lobbing his own accusations against a number of individuals, ranging from members of the Palacios family to the wife of a former political candidate to the police chief of the school district here.

“I think it’s time for me to address the investigation into voter fraud happening in Edinburg,” Mayor Richard Molina said in the video posted to his political Facebook page. “My supporters have become the targets of this investigation. That’s why I want the whole story to be told publicly.”

He begins with former Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios, who filed a detailed complaint about Molina and his supporters to the Secretary of State’s Office in December.

“Her motive is simple,” the mayor said. “She’s a disgruntled former vendor who has a personal vendetta against me.”

Molina then turns his attention to investigators, urging them to take a closer look at her family.

“There are many Palacios family members and political supporters whose voter registration forms do not represent their true address of residence,” Molina alleged. “These are people who have committed fraud in every election they voted in using false addresses.”

The mayor goes on to list the home addresses of Palacios and her two sisters, Julie Ann Carcano and Janie Zamorano, who he calls “paid political operatives.” Each of them have seven or eight people registered to vote under their roofs, he said, and not all of them live there.

“That’s 22 people registered to vote in three homes — all belonging to Palacios family members. Why haven’t investigators taken a closer look at these suspicious voter registration addresses,” he asked rhetorically. “Is it because their own nephew, the district attorney, is investigating the case?”

Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez is a nephew to Palacios, Carcano and Zamorano. He spoke to The Monitor Tuesday and defended the integrity of his office, and that of the Texas Rangers and the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Four other people are registered to vote from a commercial plaza in Edinburg, Molina continues.

“One of them is Ashley Villarreal, the wife of a candidate who ran for council,” he said about Roland Villarreal, who ran in November against Edinburg council member Gilbert Enriquez. “How can a candidate’s wife claim to live in a business, while he claims to live at his parent’s residence in Edinburg? They have not been investigated or arrested either.”

Villarreal did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

“Those people voted in the November election, and it only takes a drive by to see that it is not a home,” Molina said. “It’s a place of business, a commercial plaza.”

He then lists three couples who he believes voted illegally by voting in Edinburg and not living within city limits. Noemi and David Almaraz live in McAllen, Molina said. Alex and Zelma Davila live in San Antonio and Rudy and Elizabeth Zamorano live in Alamo.

“Their social media posts even state that they are traveling to their hometown to support candidates, specifically the district attorney, Ricardo Rodriguez,” Molina said about the Davilas as the video zooms in on what appears to be a social media post from Alex Davila that reads “On our way from San Antonio for My Best Friend & Compadre District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez …”

Molina then says he has personal knowledge that the Zamoranos, and their daughter, Estrella, dont’ live in Edinburg.

“I have been in their home in Alamo, myself,” Molina said. “Yet they vote in every Edinburg election — and they’re not being investigated?”

Rudy Zamorano lambasted the mayor in an expletive-laden post on Facebook shortly after the video was published.

“First and last warning keep my families (sic) name out of your f——- mouth you piece of s—- and get your facts straight…” Zamorano wrote.

Molina then moves on to Edinburg school district police Chief Ricardo Perez Jr., who he alleges, voted in the municipal election but lives in a ranch “way outside the city limits of Edinburg.” Meanwhile, the video zooms in on a picture of what appears to be the entrance of a ranch bearing the Perez surname.

“The list goes on and on. Why aren’t these people under investigation for illegally voting,” an exasperated Molina asks.

He then resumes the video by addressing the four arrests that occurred last week.

“A handful of weak accusations will not change the outcome,” he said. “This is the truth. This is the information you aren’t being told. These are the people who are being allowed to vote illegally without any consequence.”

‘FAMILY MEMBER, A FRIEND OR A FOE’

The Texas Secretary of State’s Office received an official complaint regarding Molina’s accusations this morning, Rodriguez said Tuesday. However, it remains unclear who submitted the documents.

The move is traditionally the first step in launching an investigation, and just like with Palacios’ complaint, it can be referred to the Texas Attorney General’s Office for investigation.

Molina, however, had already given state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa documents that constituted a complaint, Rodriguez said. The DA refused to be the first to handle them and instead asked the Rangers and the AG’s office to handle the matter.

“So even before the official complaint was filed, the Texas Rangers and the AG had already been advised to look at these matters very closely just like they looked at the first complaint,” Rodriguez said, rejecting the notion that his office was targeting Molina’s camp.

It was the state investigative agencies that approached the DA’s office, which is charged with prosecuting crimes in the area, for assistance, he said.

Rodriguez mulled the potential conflict of interest when he was first approached because his aunt filed the complaint that started the investigation, but he decided against recusing himself.

“We felt that if it was just our office conducting the investigation and making decisions … then I would have said, ‘No. We can’t do this,’” he said.

But the investigation is being headed by the Rangers and investigators from the AG’s office, he said.

“We have not kept anything from them. We have not intervened in any way to stop their investigation,” Rodriguez said. “We have been assisting them and I have even made statements to the AG’s office and the Texas Rangers that at any point if you feel my involvement is hindering, compromising or causing a conflict, then please let us know and we would be more than happy for the attorney general’s office to take over the prosecution.”

The AG’s office will review the newly filed complaint — without input from the DA’s office — and will ultimately decide how to proceed, Rodriguez said.

“Mr. Molina is trying to say and is insinuating that I have control over the Texas Rangers and the attorney general’s office and how to investigate and who to charge,” he said. “To say they have not investigated or will not investigate is completely false.”

Still, there is a chance he may have to step away from the issue.

“If there’s a family member of mine that is investigated … and charged … then at that point there could be a possible conflict where I need to get myself out of the way,” Rodriguez said.

However, he vowed to keep protecting the integrity of his office.

“I want to make it clear to everyone, the investigation is going to go on. Everything is going to be looked at whether it’s a family member, a friend or a foe,” he said. “We are not going to look the other way.”

nlopez@themonitor.com