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Press Release

Former city commissioner sentenced for role in bribery conspiracy

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas

McALLEN, Texas - A former Weslaco city commissioner has been sentenced 30 months for his role in a bribery conspiracy that involved city contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Gerardo Tafolla, 57, along with former Weslaco City commissioner John F. Cuellar, accepted bribes from Arturo C. Cuellar Jr., Ricardo Quintanilla and others in exchange for official action favorable to engineering companies seeking large contracts with the city.

From approximately March 2008 through December 2015, one of the participants in the scheme received approximately $4.1 million from two engineering companies and shared nearly $1.4 million with Arturo Cuellar, a former Hidalgo County commissioner. Arturo Cuellar then used a company he controlled to facilitate the payment of approximately $405,000 in bribes to his cousin, John Cuellar, which were disguised as legitimate legal expenses. In exchange for these payments, John Cuellar took several official actions to benefit the companies, including helping to award contracts worth approximately $38.5 million to rehabilitate Weslaco’s water treatment facilities. Quintanilla received approximately $85,000 during the course of the scheme and used that money to pay cash bribes to Tafolla for his official actions to benefit the companies that received the water treatment plant contracts.

In October 2022, a jury convicted Arturo Cuellar and Quintanilla for their roles in the bribery conspiracy. Arturo Cuellar was later sentenced to 20 years in prison and Quintanilla was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison. John Cuellar was sentenced to three years in prison after previously pleading guilty in August 2019. Tafolla pleaded guilty in April 2019 to federal program bribery.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and Special Agent in Charge Ramsey E. Covington of the IRS Criminal Investigation Houston Field Office made the announcement as well.

The FBI San Antonio Field Office and IRS-CI Houston Field Office investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Lopez Jr. prosecuted the case along with Trial Attorney William J. Gullotta and Acting Deputy Chief Marco A. Palmieri of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section (PIN). Trial Attorney Peter M. Nothstein and former PIN Trial Attorneys Erica O’Brien Waymack and Jessica C. Harvey provided valuable assistance.

Updated November 30, 2023

Financial Fraud