Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and his wife Dalia were charged Thursday with orchestrating a ballot fraud scheme that allegedly helped him upset his popular predecessor in 2017.
The Molinas became the 17th and 18th people charged in connection with a state attorney general’s investigation that began just a month after Molina, a former Edinburg police officer and city council member, was sworn in as mayor.
“We’re prepared to present a full array of charges against Molina and his co-conspirators to the grand jury for a thorough evaluation of the evidence to ensure justice is served,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement issued Thursday.
The charges for organized election fraud against the Molinas may represent the first time the state has exercised its authority under a bill passed by the legislature in 2017 as part of a crackdown on voter fraud in Texas. The bill made organized voter fraud a first-degree felony.
Since the investigation began, Molina has contended that he and his wife are the targets of the longtime former mayor, Richard Garcia, and his family. Molina pressured Garcia to resign as president of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; now Molina himself serves on the development corporation’s board of directors. Edinburg is a few miles north of McAllen.
According to investigators from Paxton’s Election Fraud Unit, the Molinas and at least three other people in September 2017 began approaching residents who live outside Edinburg and trying to convince them to claim Edinburg addresses. Many of those who did so used the address of an apartment complex owned by Molina.
The fraudulent address-changing went on right on into election day, Nov. 7, according to investigators.
The 16 people arrested prior to the Molinas have been charged with falsifying their addresses, all second-degree felonies. Investigators have not said how many votes they believe Molina gained fraudulently; he beat Garcia by 1,240 votes.
Investigators including members of the Texas Rangers said several of those charged with falsifying their addresses reported that they had been pressured to do it by Molina. The then-candidate allegedly texted those individuals to remind them of their supposed addresses and to vote.
Former Edinburg Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios took it upon herself to investigate ballots after the election. In December 2017 she filed a voter fraud complaint with the Texas secretary of state, according to Paxton’s office.
In an interview with KVEO-TV in December 2018, Molina alleged that Palacios, a Garcia supporter who is also an insurance agent, launched the investigation because of her failure to get a city insurance contract valued at $300,000. Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez, who will be prosecuting the voter fraud cases, is Palacios’ cousin.
At the Molinas’ arraignment Thursday, Carlos Garcia, Richard Molina’s attorney, continued the theme of a political power struggle behind the investigations. His client “is a victim of a power struggle here in Hidalgo County and that power struggle is one that has been unfolding for the last couple of years,” Garcia told The Monitor, McAllen’s daily newspaper.
Garcia also took a shot at Paxton for allegedly inflating a local political row for his own political gain. “I’m sick of the Valley being the state’s toilet,” Garcia told The Monitor.
Paxton has made clear throughout the Edinburg investigation that his office is taking voter fraud very seriously. After the arrest of nine people accused of falsifying addresses in the Edinburg mayoral election, Paxton said, “An organized illegal voting scheme orchestrated by political operatives is an affront to democracy and results in corruption at the highest level.”
The Election Fraud Unit last year prosecuted 33 people on a total of 97 violations of election fraud laws as part of an election fraud crackdown that began in February 2018.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].