EDINBURG — A Hidalgo County grand jury on Thursday returned 13 new indictments tied to the illegal voting and election fraud investigation into the 2017 city of Edinburg municipal election, documents show.
The indictments are related to an investigation launched in May 2018 probing the results of Edinburg’s November 2017 municipal election.
Authorities, working with the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office, have since made more than 20 arrests in connection with allegations of illegal voting during that election.
All of these defendants had been previously arrested in connection with the investigation into potential fraud in the election, which resulted in Richard Molina unseating then-Mayor Richard Garcia, and were indicted on one count of illegal voting.
Those defendants are: Veronica Vela Saenz, 42, Maria San Juanita Aleman, 35, Cynthia Tamez, 32, Ruby Tamez, 31, Francisco Tamez Jr., 33, Crystal Lee Ponce, 28, Guadalupe Sanchez Garza, 46, Belinda Rodriguez, 41, Brenda Rodriguez, 32, Rosendo Rodriguez, 72, Felisha Rodriguez, 23, Jose Ignacio Martinez, 22, and Araceli Montoya Gutierrez, 51.
Saenz, a resident of Edinburg, is associated with iShopRGV, a defunct mobile app and website that is now a social media account promoting local businesses, through numerous Facebook posts.
Just this year, in April, Molina’s campaign gave iShopRGV $3,000 for “sponsorship,” according to campaign finance records.
Gutierrez is accused of engaging in organized election fraud between August and November 2017, according to the indictment. In addition to one count of illegal voting, Gutierrez was charged with one count of engaging in organized election fraud.
“ … (Gutierrez) did then and there, with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a vote harvesting organization, the vote harvesting organization consisting of the defendant, Brenda Rodriguez, Belinda Rodriguez, Rosendo Rodriguez, Felisha Rodriguez and Jose I. Martinez, who collaborated in carrying on the hereinafter described activity intentionally and knowingly commit the offense of illegal voting,” the document alleges.
Gutierrez, Felisha Rodriguez, Brenda Rodriguez, Belinda Rodriguez, Rosendo Rodriguez, Martinez and Sanchez Garza are accused of illegally casting ballots in the election Oct. 23-27, 2017.
Francisco Tamez Jr. also faces a charge of illegal voting for casting ballots during the March 2018 Democratic Primary, according to the indictment.
According to the indictment, Cynthia, Ruby and Francisco Tamez, allegedly illegally voted Nov. 3, 2017, while Saenz, Ponce, and Aleman allegedly illegally voted Nov. 7, 2017.
The indictments come roughly a month after Molina, his wife Dahlia Molina, and another man, Julio Carranza, were also indicted in connection with the AG’s investigation.
All three pleaded not guilty to the illegal voting and election fraud charges during a formal arraignment hearing in July.
The Molinas and Carranza are all due back for a pre-trial hearing in late November, court records show.
All 16 of the indicted defendants face either first or second degree charges in connection with the investigation.
If convicted of the second-degree charge, illegal voting, the aforementioned defendants could face between two of 20 years in prison. While those facing the election fraud charge, a first-degree felony, face between five and 99 years to life in prison.
Staff writer Daniel A. Flores contributed to this report