Cuellar sentencing delayed; ex-official pleads guilty

The sentencing of former District 2 Weslaco City Commissioner John F. Cuellar in connection with the Weslaco water plant bribery scandal has been delayed until after the new year, according to recently released federal court records.

U.S. District Court Judge Micaela Alvarez on Monday granted Cuellar’s motion to delay the sentencing until Jan. 15, 2020, court records show. His sentencing hearing had originally been set for Oct. 22.

Cuellar, one of four defendants who originally pleaded not guilty as part of a 74-count superseding indictment in April, changed his plea to guilty in August.

Of the myriad counts levied against the four defendants, Cuellar stood charged with 61 counts, ranging from honest services wire fraud, to federal programs bribery and others. He later pleaded guilty to the first charge in the indictment, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.

According to the terms of the plea agreement, Cuellar may face up to 20 years in prison, plus up to three years of supervised release. Too, he may have to pay up to $250,000 in fines.

The case against Cuellar’s three co-defendants — former Precinct 1 Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar, Rio Grande City school board trustee Daniel Garcia, and Weslaco businessman Ricardo “Rick” Quintanilla — remains headed for trial at the end of the year, with jury selection set to begin Dec. 2.

Two other former public officials pleaded guilty to related charges earlier this spring. Former Rio Grande City Municipal Judge Leonel Lopez Jr. and former District 4 Weslaco City Commissioner Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla pleaded guilty to federal programs bribery in late March and April 8, respectively. Their sentencing hearings have likewise been delayed — Lopez’s to Dec. 6 and Tafolla’s to Jan. 15, 2020.

And on the same day Alvarez granted Cuellar’s sentencing delay, the federal judge also accepted the guilty plea of another former Weslaco public official in connection with the bribery scandal.

On Monday, former Weslaco Commissioner David Fox pleaded guilty to lying under oath during his testimony to the grand jury last year, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Monday evening.

On Nov. 20, 2018, Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Lopez Jr. asked Fox if he had received any money or benefit “in connection with casting a vote as a member of the Weslaco City Commission,” the statement reads. Fox replied that he had not.

Ultimately, Fox admitted he had received at least $2,000 in bribes that he believed were meant to influence his votes relating to the water treatment plant, the statement reads. When those votes were taken, or how many times they may have occurred, remains unclear.

Fox served as a Weslaco commissioner from December 2012 through November 2015. During that time, he also served as a board member of the Economic Development Corporation of Weslaco.

He faces up to five years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine. Sentencing on the plea has been set for Jan. 9, 2020.

darevalo@mvtcnews.com

Monitor staff writer Matt Wilson contributed to this report.