EDINBURG — The formal arraignment scheduled Friday for Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina was reset and will now take place next week, according to the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office.
Molina, 40, was expected to formally hear charges against him in a recently filed 12-count indictment before a state district judge. It was rescheduled for July 19, however, due to a court scheduling issue.
The mayor faces 12 charges, specifically one count of organized election fraud and 11 counts of illegal voting in connection with the 2017 city of Edinburg election, which he won by a mere 1,200 votes over incumbent mayor Richard Garcia.
In a six-page indictment unsealed in early June, Molina, between Sept. 1 and Nov. 1, 2017, is accused of forming or being a part of a “vote harvesting organization” that included his wife, Dalia Molina, 42, business partner, Julio Carranza, and others including Oralia Leal, Adolfo Cantu, Richard Ramirez, Araceli Ramirez, Erica Molina, Edward Ramos, Jerry Gonzalez Jr. and Karen Mendez.
Along with this group, Molina allegedly collaborated in changing or causing someone else to change a voter registration address to one from Edinburg, where the person did not reside, in addition to voting or making someone else vote in the 2017 election despite being ineligible to vote in the city, the indictment read.
In addition to the one charge of organized election fraud, Molina faces 11 charges of illegal voting, which makes up 11 instances in 2017 in which he allegedly directed someone to vote despite being ineligible in Edinburg.
Counts 2 through 12 are instances between July and October 2017 in which Molina allegedly directed people to vote in the city election, again despite the person being ineligible.
According to the indictment, these individuals Molina is accused of soliciting, encouraging, directing or aiding to vote are Araceli Ramirez, Richard Ramirez, Oralia Leal, Adolfo Cantu, Daniel Castillo, Victor Prado III, Erica Molina, Dyandra Valle, Edward Ramos, Jerry Gonzalez Jr., and Ricardo Martinez Jr.
Molina’s charges became public in late April, when he and his wife surrendered to authorities and were formally arraigned on charges related to the 2017 election in question. Another man, Gregorio Alaniz, 54, was also arrested during that time in connection with the investigation.
Beginning in May 2018, authorities working with the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office began making arrests in connection with the election.
In all, authorities have thus far arrested 19 people in connection with illegal voting charges. More arrests are expected in the investigation.
In addition to the aforementioned people arrested, Veronica Vela Saenz, 41, Jose Antonio Vela, 27, Maria San Juanita Alemna, 35, Crystal Lee Ponce, 28, Francisco Tamez Jr., 33, Cynthia Tamez Jr., 32, Ruby Tamez, 31, Jerry Gonzalez Jr., 33, Guadalupe Sanchez Garza, 46, Brenda Rodriguez, 32, Felisha Yolanda Rodriguez, 23, Belinda Rodriguez, 41, Rosendo Rodriguez, 72, Araceli Gutierrez, 51, and Jose Ignacio Martinez, 22, have all been arrested and charged with illegal voting in connection with this investigation.
One witness said that “for several days during early voting,” Molina allegedly texted the witness a reminder to vote, according to the complaint, which notes Molina himself was the deputy voter registrar that allegedly assisted the witness with the falsified voter registration application.
A number of those arrested in connection with the case were assisted by Edinburg City Councilman Jorge Luis “Coach” Salinas, who ran along with Molina on a political slate; and Robyn Zayas, sister to the city of Edinburg spokeswoman who was hired soon after the election, according to complaints released to The Monitor.
Zayas, Salinas and both Molina and his wife were all certified as volunteer voter registrars during the 2017 election.
Molina, who is being represented by Mission-based defense attorney Carlos A. Garcia, is expected before visiting state District Judge Carlos Valdez at 11 a.m. July 19 to hear the reading of the 12-count indictment against him.
At which point, Molina is expected to plead not guilty to all charges.
It is unclear when Dalia Molina, who will be represented by Edinburg-based defense attorney O. Rene Flores, is expected to be formally arraigned.
The indictment against her, a three-page record accusing her of one count of engaging in organized voter fraud and two counts of illegal voting, was also filed June 6, according to records.
The AG’s investigation into the 2017 election began after former Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace Mary Palacios filed a complaint a month after Molina was voted mayor.
In her complaint to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, Palacios provided the office multiple pages of records she had reviewed, specifically voting records of those who participated in the election.
At the time of Molina’s surrender in April, Garcia challenged the allegations against his client, and looks forward to presenting evidence at trial showing that Molina’s arrest was allegedly due to “selective prosecution” and part of a “political spat.”
If convicted of count one, organized election fraud, a first degree felony, the mayor could receive a punishment of five to 99 years in prison.