Updated: Tafolla sentencing delayed until January

Related proceedings for former RGC judge delayed indefinitely

The sentencing of former Weslaco District 4 City Commissioner Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla has been delayed until after the new year, newly released court records show.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez on Monday granted a motion for continuance on pronouncing Tafolla’s sentence until Jan. 15, 2020. The decision came the same day that Tafolla filed a sealed motion requesting the sentencing delay.

On April 1, Tafolla was charged with one count of federal programs bribery in connection with a larger bribery scheme regarding the $38.5 million rehabilitation of Weslaco’s water treatment facilities.

One week after the charge was filed — on April 8 — Tafolla reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Under the terms of the agreement, prosecutors were set to recommend lowering the offense level of Tafolla’s charge by two levels.

In exchange for his guilty plea, Tafolla would also forfeit $20,000 and submit a “complete financial disclosure” to the government.

According to a copy of the judge’s order, which was posted Tuesday morning, Tafolla’s motion for continuance was unopposed, meaning prosecutors did not try to counter the request.

Five other men are currently embroiled in the case, including former District 2 Weslaco City Commissioner John Cuellar, former Precinct 1 Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar, attorney and Rio Grande City school board trustee Daniel Garcia, Weslaco businessman Ricardo “Rick” Quintanilla, and former Rio Grande City municipal judge Leonel Lopez Jr.

Both Cuellars, Garcia and Quintanilla pleaded not guilty to a litany of charges unveiled in a 74-count superseding indictment in mid-April.

Jury selection for their joint trial is expected to begin Dec. 2. Like Tafolla, their case is being presided over by Alvarez.

Meanwhile, Lopez, who was first charged with one count of bribery involving federal programs in late March, also pleaded guilty. His sentencing was slated for 9:30 a.m. Monday before U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa.

However, sometime after Alvarez’s decision to delay Tafolla’s sentencing was posted Tuesday morning, Hinojosa delivered a similar order regarding Lopez.

According to those court records made publicly viewable, an unnamed “sealed event” with attachments was filed in Hinojosa’s court Tuesday. Afterward, the judge delivered an oral order delaying Lopez’s sentencing indefinitely.

“Sentencing previously set for 7/15/2019 is cancelled until further notice,” reads a short docket memo on Hinojosa’s decision.

In late May, prosecutors filed their confidential sentencing recommendations regarding Lopez. Those documents, too, remain under seal.

Prosecutors have filed no such sentencing recommendations in the case against Tafolla; however, on May 28, the former Weslaco city commissioner filed an objection to the government’s presentence investigation report.

The government’s final presentence investigation report — as well as two addendums — were posted on June 11. They, along with Tafolla’s initial objection, also remain under seal.

In the related case against the two Cuellars — who are cousins — and Quintanilla and Garcia, Judge Alvarez ruled in late May to declare the case “complex,” thereby pushing back all filing deadlines by six months in order to give both sides more time to prepare.

Both Alvarez and the prosecution said they had seen few cases with such voluminous evidence.

In sum, A.C. and John Cuellar collectively face 27 counts of money laundering and 27 counts of violating the travel act.

They, along with Quintanilla, also face one count of federal programs bribery.

Together with the fourth defendant, Garcia, they collectively face seven counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.

Leading the teams of prosecutors for the government in all three cases is Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Lopez Jr.

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