Weslaco businessman arrested in bribery scheme tied to water plant

McALLEN — Ricardo “Rick” Quintanilla, a Weslaco businessman, was arrested by the FBI on Thursday evening in connection with a bribery scheme involving the $38 million overhaul of the Weslaco water treatment facilities.

Quintanilla, 51, faces charges of bribery and wire fraud as part of an alleged scheme to bribe two Weslaco city commissioners in exchange for multi-million dollar contracts to three companies for work on the water treatment facilities.

His arrest follows the guilty plea of Leonel Lopez Jr., a now-former Rio Grande City municipal judge who admitted on March 22 to orchestrating the scheme.

As part of the scheme, Lopez allegedly received money from three companies, identified as Companies A, B, and C in the indictment.

The funds were funneled through Companies B and C disguised as consulting fees.

Lopez allegedly wrote 41 checks to Quintanilla who would cash those checks and then split about half the funds with one of the city commissioners.

Those checks, which Lopez gave Quintanilla from about August 2011 to about October 2014, totaled approximately $85,950, ranging from $500 to about $5,000 each.

They were drawn on Lopez’s accounts at Lone Star National Bank, according to the 18-count indictment.

In exchange for the cash, the city commissioner would use his position to vote in favor of authorizing multi-million dollar contracts to the three companies for Weslaco’s water treatment facilities.

Quintanilla, Lopez, the commissioner and other possible co-conspirators met at various times to discuss what action the commissioner should take to benefit the companies.

They would also communicate through text messages and email in furtherance of the scheme.

When the city of Weslaco stopped making payments to Company B, Lopez sent Quintanilla questions that Lopez wanted the commissioner to ask in upcoming city commissioner meetings. The questions were an attempt to recover payments for Company B.

If convicted, property found to have been derived from proceeds of the scheme, about $85,950, is subject to forfeiture.

The three companies in question are described as an international engineering and construction company that performed large-scale infrastructure projects for public and private clients; an engineering company based in San Antonio; and an engineering company based in McAllen.

It is known that for the construction of its water treatment plant, Weslaco hired CDM Smith, a Massachusetts-based engineering and construction firm, and Briones Consulting & Engineering Ltd, a San Antonio-based company with close ties to CDM.

With regard to Quintanilla, little is known about his business. What is known is that Quintanilla has long been active politically in the city, having previously served as a Weslaco Economic Development Corporation board member and, in 2014, ran an unsuccessful bid for the District 3 seat on the city commission against then-incumbent Olga Noriega.

Quintanilla was also involved in unsuccessful efforts to halt the city commission’s canvassing of votes when Noriega was elected in May 2011, claiming she did not reside within city limits.

Following his arrest Thursday, Quintanilla made his initial appearance in federal court Friday morning before Magistrate Judge Peter E. Ormsby.

Quintanilla’s attorney, Robert L. Steindel, declined to comment after the hearing.

An arraignment and bond hearing are scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday.

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Feds detail multi-million dollar water plant bribery scheme entangling Weslaco officials