Man arraigned formally in Edinburg voting fraud case; pleads not guilty

DOCS: Man voted in 2017 Edinburg election despite lack of eligibility

EDINBURG — Another suspect in the Attorney General’s office investigation into potential voter fraud over the 2017 municipal election has been arraigned.

During a formal arraignment hearing Monday morning inside the 389th state District Court, Francisco Tamez Jr. pleaded not guilty to two counts of illegal voting related to the AG’s investigation into allegations that multiple people voted illegally during the 2017 municipal elections in which Richard Molina became mayor of Edinburg. 

Tamez, 34, was in court last week for his arraignment, but failed to show up with an attorney at the time, forcing the case to be reset for Monday morning. 

During the hearing Monday, Tamez, who was officially indicted Aug. 22 on two counts of illegal voting, was accompanied by McAllen-based attorney Robert M. Capello Jr., who was appointed by the court.  

The indictment, handed down last month, shows prosecutors presented evidence of two alleged incidents in which Tamez voted illegally — once in November 2017 during the Edinburg election, and another time in March of 2018 during the Hidalgo County Democratic Primary, the documents state. 

Earlier this month, Edinburg city secretary Ludivina Leal was arrested and charged with illegal voting as well. 

She and the others in the indictment are accused of voting in the November 2017 election; despite not being eligible to do so; or allowing others to use their eligible addresses to those who did not live in the city. 

Ludivina was arrested by Texas AG’s investigators Sept. 3, shortly after she left the city council meeting. 

Last week, Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramón said Leal would no longer be the point of contact for the city during the 2019 municipal election 

City Manager Juan Guerra, in an interview with The Monitor last week, confirmed the move, and said that task will be handled by the city attorney’s office — in an effort to “maintain the integrity of the election,” Guerra said. 

Guerra also downplayed talk of impropriety because ultimately it’s the county that is contracted to run the 2019 election. 

The move to shift Leal’s responsibilities also comes after Edinburg Councilman Gilbert Enriquez attempted to have the city secretary removed by making a motion for her removal during last week’s city council meeting. 

The motion failed in a 2-2 deadlock. 

Last week, Carlos Jasso, a candidate for city council, drafted a letter to the Texas Secretary of State’s office, asking for officials there to take notice of the AG’s investigation and oversee the 2019 election. 

Tamez is due back for a pre-trial hearing Oct. 24, with trial expected to begin Oct. 28, records show. 

Along with Mayor Molina and his wife Dalia Molina, Tamez is among more than 20 arrested and charged in connection with the AG’s investigation. 

If convicted of the illegal voting charges, second degree felonies, Tamez could face up to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.