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Press Release

Three Texas Men Arrested and Charged with Bribery Conspiracy

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Three Texas men, including a former Weslaco City Commissioner and a former Hidalgo County Commissioner, were arrested today on charges of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick for the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs of the FBI San Antonio Office and Acting Special Agent in Charge Sarah Kull of the IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) Houston Field office, made the announcement.

Criminal complaints were filed today in the Southern District of Texas against former Weslaco City Commissioner John Cuellar, 56, of Weslaco, Texas, and former Hidalgo County Commissioner Arturo Cuellar Jr., 65, of Hidalgo County, Texas.  They are charged with conspiring to bribe a Weslaco City Commissioner in exchange for official actions favorable to three engineering companies and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  Daniel Garcia, 40, an attorney based in Rio Grande City, Texas, was also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to the complaint, starting in approximately March 2008, Cuellar agreed to accept bribes from three engineering companies that were funneled through Cuellar Jr. and others. Cuellar and another Weslaco City Commissioner would then allegedly take actions favorable to the three companies in relation to contracts to rehabilitate and rebuild Weslaco’s water treatment facilities. 

According to the complaint, from approximately April 2008 through December 2015, Lopez received approximately $3.7 million from two engineering companies, and shared approximately $1.398 million with Cuellar Jr.  The complaint further alleges that Cuellar Jr. used a company he controlled to pay Cuellar approximately $405,000, disguised as legitimate legal expenses.  In exchange for these payments, Cuellar allegedly took several official actions to benefit the three construction companies, including the award of a $38.5 million contract to rehabilitate Weslaco’s water treatment plant.

The complaint further alleges that Lopez and Cuellar, Jr. enlisted Garcia, an attorney, to launder approximately $90,000 in bribe payments to Cuellar through Garcia’s interest on lawyers trust (IOLTA) account.

A complaint contains only allegations.  A defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.                                                                                                             

FBI and IRS-CI conducted the investigation. Trial Attorneys Peter M. Nothstein and Jessica C. Harvey of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Lopez of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.   

Updated November 6, 2019

Financial Fraud
Public Corruption
Press Release Number: 19-330