Former Officials Indicted in Weslaco Bribery Conspiracy
McALLEN, Texas – A McAllen grand jury has returned a 74-count superseding indictment against four local men alleging they conspired with others to pay bribes to two Weslaco City Commissioners.
U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick made the announcement along with Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs of the FBI San Antonio Office and Acting Special Agent in Charge Sarah Kull of IRS-Criminal Investigation (CI) Houston Field office.
The indictment filed in the Southern District of Texas yestrday charges former Weslaco City Commissioner John F. Cuellar, 56, and Richard Quintanilla, 51, both of Weslaco; former Hidalgo County Commissioner Arturo C. Cuellar Jr., 65, of Hidalgo County; and Daniel J. Garcia, 40, of Rio Grande City. They allegedly conspired to bribe and bribed John Cuellar, 56, of Weslaco, and another Weslaco City Commissioner – Gerardo Tafolla, 52 of Weslaco - in exchange for official actions favorable to three engineering companies. Tafolla pleaded guilty to one count of federal program bribery on April 8, 2019, before the Honorable Micaela Alvarez of the Southern District of Texas.
According to the superseding indictment, from approximately March 2008 through December 2015, Leonel J. Lopez, 52, of Starr County, received approximately $4.1 million from two engineering companies and shared approximately $1.398 million with Cuellar Jr. Lopez pleaded guilty to one count of federal program bribery on March 22, 2019, before the Honorable Ricardo H. Hinojosa of the Southern District of Texas.
The superseding indictment 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 superseding indictment also alleges Lopez paid additional bribes through Quintanilla to Tafolla, according to the allegations.
The superseding indictment 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 account.
If convicted, they face up to 20 years in federal prison on each of the wire fraud and money laundering charges, 10 years for a conviction of federal programs bribery and another five years upon conviction of violations of interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises.
FBI and IRS-CI conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Lopez Jr. is prosecuting the case along with Trial Attorneys Peter M. Nothstein and Jessica C. Harvey of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.