Update: Edinburg mayor’s organized election fraud charge may be a state milestone

Mugshots of Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and his wife Dalia Molina after being charged with illegal voting. (Courtesy photos)

Updated 4:38 p.m.

The arrest of Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina on an engaging in organized election fraud charge is likely the first time an elected official in Texas has been charged with that crime.

The charge was created during the 2017 Texas Legislative session with the passage of House Bill 1735 and went into effect Sept. 1, 2017.

“A person commits an offense if, with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a vote harvesting organization, the person commits or conspires to commit one or more offenses,” the Election Code reads in reference to the charge, and defines a vote harvesting organization as three or more persons who collaborate in committing the offense.

In Molina’s case, the charge is a first-degree felony, punishable by 5 to 99 years, or life, in prison if convicted. That is because that offense of engaging in organized election fraud is “one category higher than the most serious offense … that is committed,” which in his case is illegal voting, a second-degree felony.

Investigators with the Texas Attorney General’s office allege Molina committed organized illegal fraud activities from Sept. 19 to Nov. 7, 2017, according to the criminal complaint.

1:26 p.m.

Bonds for Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and his wife, Dalia Molina, were posted by David’s Bail Bond, which is owned by Edinburg City Councilmember David Torres.

Molina and his wife were booked at around 11:45 a.m. and bonded out at about 12:35 p.m.

The mayor then headed to city hall for a workshop regarding the future of the Ebony Hills Golf Course.

12:38 p.m.

Richard Garcia, who Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina unseated in the November 2017 election now marred by illegal voting allegations, took to social media on Thursday to express sadness over the “black eye” the city will incur as a result of the charges Molina and his wife now face in relation to the allegations.

“So many have called or texted. I can understand why you would want to talk to me but my comments may not be what you expect. I, like you, have heard many rumors for the past year. I have intentionally …. Very deliberately stayed away from commenting, asking, monitoring any of it,” Garcia wrote on his Facebook page.

Garcia went on to state that, “in spite of many immediate and obvious discrepancies at the time of the election, I did not contest the outcome.”

He added, “Whereas I am not surprised by the incidents of today, I cannot say that I am gladdened. In fact, I am saddened that our community receives this black eye; particularly when it was once seen as the Valley’s rising star filled with promise and integrity. I am also saddened for the families and followers of the Molina family. One should never celebrate the woes of others.”

So many have called or texted. I can understand why you would want to talk to me but my comments may not be what you…

Posted by Mayor Richard Garcia on Thursday, April 25, 2019

11:22 a.m.

Edinburg city spokeswoman Cary Zayas gave a brief comment outside of the office of Precinct 2 Place 2 Justice of the Peace Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz, where Mayor Richard Molina and his wife Dalia Molina were arraigned Thursday morning on illegal voting charges.

She indicated the mayor was not aware of the charges and said he “very adamantly denies any wrongdoing.”

“It’s time today to let this process really happen,” she said. “He maintains his innocence.”

Molina is expected to release his own statement, she added.

“As far as the city goes, this has nothing to do with our day-to-day operations,” she said, adding that a scheduled council meeting set for 1:30 p.m. today would still go on.

“The city is supportive of the mayor and he’s innocent,” she said.

11:11 a.m.

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina was arraigned on two counts of illegal voting, a second-degree felony, and one count of engaging in organized election fraud, a first-degree felony.

He received a combined $20,000 cash bond on the three charges — $10,000 for the first-degree felony and $5,000 apiece for the second-degree felonies — which was set by Precinct 2 Place 2 Justice of the Peace Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz.

His wife, Dalia Molina, 42, was arraigned on one count of illegal voting and her bond was set at $5,000.

According to a criminal complaint, from September 2017 to Nov. 7, 2017, Richard Molina intended to “establish, maintain or participate in a vote harvesting organization,” which the Texas Election code defines as three or more people collaborating to commit voter fraud.

The document alleges he “pressured and persuaded” at least seven people to change their voter registration address to be eligible to vote in the municipal election despite living outside city limits.

The document further alleges Richard Molina personally signed some of the applications as he and his wife were both certified as volunteer voter registrars by the Hidalgo County Elections Office.

Texas Rangers indicated they conducted “numerous interviews with suspects and witnesses” but they did not name them to protect them and their families from “threats or coercion.”

In some cases, the mayor allegedly provided a false address to the voters in order to make them eligible to vote.

10:56 a.m.

Here’s a live video of the arraignment of Mayor Richard Molina and his wife Dalia Molina on illegal voting charges.

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and his wife Dalia Molina face Justice of the Peace Jerry Muñoz for their arraignment proceedings in their illegal voting case.

Posted by The Monitor on Thursday, April 25, 2019

10:33 a.m.

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina is being charged with orchestrating an organized illegal voting scheme in his own mayoral election, a news release from the investigating agency, the Texas Attorney General’s office, confirmed Thursday morning.

The release came shortly after Molina and his wife, Dalia Molina, turned themselves in to state authorities at the Texas Department of Public Safety in Edinburg. The Molinas were also seen being led into a Pharr courtroom in handcuffs.

According to the release, the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office will prosecute both cases with the assistance of the attorney general’s Election Fraud Unit.

“Molina and his wife had numerous voters change their addresses to places they didn’t live — including the apartment complex he owns — for the express purpose of voting for Molina in the November 7, 2017, Edinburg municipal election,” the AG’s release stated. “His vote harvesting scheme involved the participation of paid campaign workers, among others. Molina won the election, unseating long-time Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia by 1,240 votes.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton stated in the release: “Voter fraud is an affront to democracy and places the decision-making authority of the Texas electorate in the hands of those who have no right to make those choices. Voter apathy is caused by rigged elections with guaranteed outcomes. My office will always do everything it can to protect the integrity of Texas elections and the rights of every legal voter to cast a ballot and have it counted accurately. No one is above the law.”

Hidalgo County DA Ricardo Rodriguez also made the following statement in the release.

“My office is appreciative of the many witnesses who have come forward and cooperated with the investigation, explaining how they were lured by an ambitious candidate into participating in an illegal voting scheme to elect Richard Molina. We encourage any additional witnesses who were pressured to engage in fraudulent voting in Molina’s election to step forward and cooperate with authorities. We’re prepared to present a full array of charges against Molina and his co-conspirators to the grand jury for a thorough evaluation of the evidence to ensure justice is served.”

Eighteen people, including the Molinas, have now been arrested in connection with the alleged illegal voting plot in Edinburg, an investigation in which DPS and the Texas Rangers have assisted.

10:04 a.m.

Another arrest was made Wednesday in the ongoing Edinburg voter fraud investigation, according to Hidalgo County jail records.

Gregorio Lopez Alaniz

The Texas Attorney General’s Office arrested Gregorio Lopez Alaniz, 54, Wednesday on an illegal voting charge, a second-degree felony.

He was booked into county jail at 7:55 p.m. and is expected to be arraigned Thursday by a jail magistrate.

The arrest came before Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and his wife, Dalia Molina, turned themselves in to state officials before 10 a.m. Thursday morning in connection with the case at the Texas Department of Public Safety in Edinburg.

9:50 a.m.

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and his wife Dalia Molina have turned themselves in to authorities after warrants were issued for their arrests on illegal voting charges stemming from the city’s November 2017 election, according to a law enforcement source with knowledge of the case.

The Molinas are expected to be arraigned later today on multiple charges.

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina is seen surrendering himself to authorities at the DPS office in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

The Edinburg mayor has been dogged by allegations of engaging in and encouraging voter fraud ever since he won the election in November 2017.

Such speculation was only heightened by the arrest of more than a dozen people on illegal voting charges over the course of the last year as part of a Texas Attorney General’s office investigation into what Attorney General Ken Paxton has called an organized illegal voting scheme.

Molina unseated Richard Garcia for the mayoral office in that election by 1,240 votes, which Molina’s critics allege were cast by people who were not Edinburg residents.

Since May 2018, the AG’s Office and the Texas Rangers, who are assisting with the investigation, have arrested 15 people on second-degree felony illegal voting charges. Four of the 15 allegedly registered to vote from the address of an apartment complex owned by Molina despite not living there.

Molina has called the investigation into his election “one-sided” and has previously denied the allegations against him, instead charging his political opponents — among them members of the Palacios family, a long-time fixture in Edinburg politics — with engaging in illegal voting for years.

Check back for updates.

Previous coverage

Fight over voter fraud allegations in Edinburg continues

9 arrested in Edinburg voter fraud probe

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