EDINBURG – The mayor here, his wife and another individual tied to a high-profile election fraud case pleaded not guilty Friday to charges associated with the investigation.

Photo by Delcia Lopez/dlopez@themonitor.com

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina was among the three formally arraigned Friday morning, with Molina specifically facing 12 charges related to potential voter fraud in the 2017 municipal election in which he was victorious by roughly 1,200 votes.

Visiting State District Judge Carlos Valdez presided during Friday’s arraignment. The proceeding was originally scheduled for July 12 but was delayed due to a calendar conflict.

Molina is accused of being involved in a “vote harvesting group,” either by participation or forming it, and pressuring people who were ineligible to vote in the election to cast ballots for him using Edinburg addresses.

Richard and Dalia Molina stand in the courtroom Friday in Edinburg. Photo by Delcia Lopez/dlopez@themonitor.com

Looking straight ahead at the judge and standing next to his defense attorney Carlos A. Garcia, the mayor entered a formal plea of not guilty on all 12 charges filed against him.

According to the indictment, Molina faces 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 roughly 1,200 votes over the incumbent, Richard Garcia.

Shortly after, Molina’s wife, Dalia Molina, 42, also pleaded not guilty to the three charges unsealed in the indictment against her.

Julio Carranza, 33, also pleaded not guilty to the three charges against him in connection with the 2017 Edinburg election. He faces one count of engaging in organized election fraud and two counts of felony illegal voting, first- and second-degree felonies, respectively.

In a six-page indictment unsealed in early June, Molina is accused of forming or being a part of a “vote harvesting organization” between Sept. 1 and Nov. 1, 2017, which included his wife and Oralia Leal, Adolfo Cantu, Richard Ramirez, Araceli Ramirez, Erica Molina, Edward Ramos, Jerry Gonzalez Jr. Karen Mendez and Julio Carranza, among others believed to be a business partner of the mayor.

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina stands between his lawyers, Texas House Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr. and Carlos A. Garcia, during his arraignment on charges stemming for a voter fraud investigation on Friday in Edinburg. Photo by Delcia Lopez/dlopez@themonitor.com

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.

Visiting judge from Nueces County Carlos Valdez is presiding over the case of potential voter fraud in the 2017 Edinburg municipal election. Photo by Delcia Lopez/dlopez@themonitor.com

Molina’s charges became public in late April, when he and his wife Dalia, 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.

Dalia Molina faces the judge during her arraignment on Friday in Edinburg. Photo by Delcia Lopez/dlopez@themonitor.com

The investigation began after a former county justice of the peace filed a formal complaint with the Attorney General’s office.

Mary Alice Palacios, former Precinct 3 Hidalgo County JP, filed a complaint about a month after the Edinburg election had been decided.

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.

In all, authorities have thus far arrested 19 people in connection with illegal voting charges. More arrests are expected in the investigation.

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