9 arrested in Edinburg voter fraud probe

EDINBURG — The Texas Attorney General’s Office arrested nine people Thursday for allegedly voting illegally in last year’s Edinburg municipal election, bringing the total number of accused to 14.

Thursday marked the second time the AG’s office made sweeping arrests in connection with the hotly contested November 2017 race, when longtime Mayor Richard Garcia was ousted and a new majority, led by Mayor Richard Molina, was ushered in.

Four people allegedly used the address of an apartment complex owned by Molina, who won by more than 1,200 votes, to illegally cast votes. Two of them were arrested in May and June, while two more were arrested Thursday.

The mayor, however, is not the only one whose name has been dragged through the investigation, which the AG’s office previously referred to as an “organized scheme.” Council member Jorge Salinas and new City Secretary Ludivina Leal have also been tied through information provided on criminal complaints.

“To me, it’s very frustrating because my whole campaign has always been the target of criticism and ridicule,” the mayor said Thursday.

Both Molina and Salinas have decried the allegations against their campaigns, calling them false and political in nature. Molina went as far as creating a video in which he accused members of his opposition, including several members of the Palacios family, a long-time fixture in Edinburg politics, of voting illegally for years.

“I’ve said this from the very beginning when I made a video tape: This has been a one-sided investigation, so far, and they’re (targeting) people that have either helped me with my election or that I have hired to help me with the election,” Molina said.

He stressed that voters who were accused of voting illegally bear the responsibility for their actions.

“ It’s true, they are on my campaign reports,” Molina said about some of the people who were arrested. “However, I do want to add that whatever address that they give us is what we put down … It’s the person’s responsibility, not the deputy (registrar), to put where they live. The supposed violation occurs when they cast the ballot. That is a sole act. That’s where the offense is committed.”

Thursday’s second wave of arrests appears to focus on two families and several other individuals that allegedly changed the addresses on their voter registration cards in order to be eligible to vote in the Edinburg races, criminal complaints indicated.

Investigators used an extensive array of public records to compile evidence against the accused, including information found on driver’s license applications, school forms, utility bills, Texas Workforce Commission paperwork and property records, among other things.

409 E. FAY ST.

The 751-square-foot residence on Edinburg’s Fay Street has been making headlines since earlier this year, when former Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios filed a complaint with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, alleging eight of the 11 people registered to vote there did not live at that location.

Investigators believe Araceli Gutierrez, who according to her criminal complaint worked for an unnamed political campaign, allowed four family members to use her 409 E. Fay St. address so they could vote. Gutierrez, 51, was arrested Thursday and faces a second-degree felony illegal voting charge.

Investigators previously arrested one of the alleged inhabitants of the same home in May because she cast a ballot while still being under probation for a felony conviction involving transporting an undocumented immigrant.

The family members, who were also arrested Thursday, include Brenda Rodriguez, 32; Felisha Yolanda Rodriguez, 23; Belinda Rodriguez, 41; and Rosendo Rodriguez, 72. Investigators have sufficient probable cause to believe Brenda Rodriguez, Felisha Yolanda Rodriguez and Belinda Rodriguez live together in Alamo while Rosendo Rodriguez lives in Edinburg, but outside city limits.

2416 E. ROGERS ROAD, APT. 10

Investigators arrested two sisters Thursday on illegal voting charges who claimed to live at this address, which belongs to an apartment complex Molina and his brother own.

Like their siblings, Cynthia Tamez, 32, and Ruby Tamez, 31, are accused of changing information on their voter registration cards. Earlier this year, their older siblings, Maria San Juanita Aleman and Francisco Tamez Jr., were arrested for the same charge in connection with the same apartment.

All four live at other Edinburg addresses that are outside city limits, according to their criminal complaints, thus making them ineligible to vote in the municipal election.

The siblings’ sister, Donna Tamez, who lives at the complex but in another unit, previously told The Monitor she and her husband helped manage the complex.

OTHER ARRESTS

Additional arrests made Thursday include Jerry Gonzalez Jr., 33, and Guadalupe Sanchez Garza, 46, both on illegal voting charges.

Neither appear tied to either the Tamez or Rodriguez families, according to information provided in their criminal complaints, but both are accused of using a false address to vote in Edinburg. Investigators believe Gonzalez lives in Pharr and Garza lives in Edinburg, but outside the municipal voting jurisdiction.

Garza changed her address to a home in the 400 block of West Cano Street in Edinburg that belongs to her parents-in-law, according to her criminal complaint. Her husband’s relative, who allegedly worked for an unnamed political campaign, “solicited” her to change her address, the complaint states.

Five of the nine individuals arrested Thursday were arraigned and given personal recognizance bonds; the others are expected to face a judge Friday.

The AG’s office investigation into the 2017 Edinburg municipal election is ongoing with more arrests expected, according to an agency news release Thursday.

nlopez@themonitor.com

msmith@themonitor.com