City secretary’s arrest is latest in Edinburg vote fraud investigation

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The arrest this week of Edinburg’s city secretary brings to more than 30 the number of people charged in an alleged voter fraud scheme involving the South Texas city’s 2017 city elections.

Officers of the Texas attorney general’s office on Tuesday arrested Ludivina Leal, who became city secretary as a result of that controversial election. Edinburg is a few miles north of McAllen.

Richard Molina, the upset winner of the mayor’s race in that election, and his wife, Dalia, were charged in April with soliciting voters and having them claim fraudulent Edinburg addresses. Prosecutors allege Richard Molina spearheaded the voting scheme.

The felony charges are a result of the first major state investigation since the Texas Legislature in 2017 passed a bill cracking down on and increasing penalties for voter fraud. 

Less than two weeks before her arrest, Leal and 13 others were indicted by a Hidalgo County grand jury in connection with the alleged Molina scheme. 

in May 2018, complaints prompted investigators from the AG’s office and Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office to look into how Molina, a former Edinburg police officer and city council member, defeated then-Mayor Richard Garcia, a popular incumbent.

Members of the attorney general’s Election Fraud Unit say that in the weeks leading up to the November 2017 election, the Molinas and several others worked to convince people living outside of Edinburg to vote for Molina using addresses in Edinburg, many of them at an apartment complex Molina owns. 

Investigators have not said how many of the votes cast for Molina were fraudulent. Former Edinburg Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios was sufficiently suspicious that she examined ballots herself. In December 2017, she filed a complaint with the secretary of state’s office alleging voter fraud. 

Investigators charged 16 people with voter fraud before the arrests of the Molinas in April. On Aug. 22, the grand jury indicted Leal and 13 other people for voting illegally in the mayoral election. 

According to court documents, many of those arrested told investigators Molina and his wife had pressured them to claim false addresses and vote in Edinburg.

Since the start of the investigation, Molina has said that he and his wife have been targeted by Garcia and his family. Upon taking office, Molina forced out Garcia as president of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. Molina was then appointed to the development corporation’s board of directors.

Molina told a local television reporter last December that Palacios, a Garcia supporter, triggered the investigation because Molina denied her insurance company a $300,000 city contract.

Ricardo Rodriguez, the Hidalgo County district attorney prosecuting the voter fraud cases, is Palacios’ cousin. 

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].

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