Sentencing reset for former RGC judge charged with bribery

The sentencing for a former Rio Grande City municipal judge who pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges is back on after his previous July sentencing date had been postponed indefinitely.

Leonel Lopez Jr. pleaded guilty to federal programs bribery in March stemming from an alleged bribery scheme surrounding the rehabilitation of the Weslaco water treatment facilities.

His sentencing, now scheduled for early December, was initially scheduled for July 15. Just a few days before the hearing, though, it was canceled until further notice.

Lopez is accused of orchestrating a scheme to funnel more than $4 million to two former Weslaco city commissioners — John Cuellar and Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla.

Cuellar pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud while Tafolla pleaded guilty to federal program bribery. Their sentencing hearings are tentatively set for Oct. 22 and Jan. 15, 2020, respectively.

According to government prosecutors, the scheme involved bribing Cuellar and Tafolla so that they would award contracts for the construction and rehabilitation of the water treatment plant to certain companies.

Also alleged to have participated in the scheme are Daniel J. Garcia, an attorney and a trustee on the Rio Grande City school board, former Hidalgo County Commissioner Arturo C. “A.C.” Cuellar, and Weslaco businessman Ricardo Quintanilla. However, they pleaded not guilty.

Lopez’s sentencing is currently scheduled for Dec. 6 at 9:30 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa.

He faces up to 10 years in federal prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release.