Thursday’s arrest of Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina, his wife Dalia and others on charges of voter fraud are only the latest in a long, sad history of Rio Grande Valley officials facing allegations of criminal activity.
The couple, along with at least 16 others, are accused of fraudulently registering to vote or encouraging others to register using false addresses in order to vote for Molina in the November 2017 Edinburg mayoral election.
The Molinas are fighting the charges, and should be considered not guilty if they haven’t been convicted. Still, the specter of yet another criminal trial against a Valley official is all too familiar.
Mayor Molina’s attorney, Carlos A. Garcia, complained Thursday about the charges and the attention, claiming — as indicted officials always do — that they are politically motivated. But facts are facts; if the charges are proven to be true, it doesn’t matter what motivated the original complaint.
Garcia also said he’s tired of seeing the Valley depicted as an area “where bribery and corruption are rampant and where bad things happen.” So are we. In fact, the Molinas’ arrests overshadowed much more positive news: that also on Thursday, the petition to merge the region’s three metropolitan planning organizations, which oversee infrastructure development, was presented to the Texas Department of Transportation board in Austin, a welcome sign of regional planning and cooperation.
Sadly, it is true that South Texas has a reputation as a den of corruption and malfeasance. But with the dozens of officials and confederates who have been marched through our state and federal courtrooms, it’s also true that the reputation is earned.
South Texas’ four most southern border counties — Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Zapata — bear the dubious distinction of having both a top executive official and top law enforcement official, a county judge and sheriff, indicted if not convicted on criminal charges in the past couple of decades. In fact, former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño only recently was released from prison after serving out his sentence on a conspiracy to commit money laundering conviction.
Myriad members of city and county commissions, school boards and other governmental bodies only add to the embarrassing list.
The list of alleged or proven crimes runs the gamut from drug running, extortion and even conspiracy to commit murder, to simple bid rigging and theft of resources. Some don’t even seem to warrant risking one’s political career and reputation — not to mention a stint behind bars — such as taking money to allow conjugal visits in the county jail or hiring undocumented immigrants for domestic work and listing them as county employees so that taxpayers would pay their wages.
Perhaps most important, as early voting goes on for various local elections, this case gives us yet one more reminder to learn as much as we can about the candidates, and make the most informed decisions possible at the ballot box.
Until voters demand better officials, the long stream of official misconduct is likely to continue, and continue to erode the public’s trust.
Editor’s note: This editorial was updated to correct information related to former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño‘s conviction.