Nine individuals were arrested Thursday for their alleged roles in a 2017 voter fraud scheme involving the municipal election in a Texas border town.
These arrests were part of an ongoing investigation into a coordinated effort by political workers to recruit people who would fraudulently claim residential addresses so they could vote in specific races and influence the results of the Edinburg city election held last year, according to information provided by the Office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
“Illegal voting, particularly an organized illegal voting scheme orchestrated by political operatives, is an affront to democracy and results in corruption at the highest level,” said Paxton in a prepared statement.
“Each illegal vote silences the voice of a law-abiding registered voter,” added Paxton. “My office will continue to do everything in its power to uncover illegal voting schemes and bring to justice those who try to manipulate the outcome of elections in Texas.”
The nine Hidalgo County residents arrested were Guadalupe Sanchez Garza, Jerry Gonzalez, Jr., Araceli Gutierrez, Belinda Rodriguez, Brenda Rodriguez, Felisha Yolanda Rodriguez, Rosendo Rodriguez, Cynthia Tamez, and Ruby Tamez. Online jail records show bond was set at $20,000 for both Garza and Ruby Tamez. A $10,000 bond was set for Gonzalez, Gutierrez, Belinda Rodriguez, Brenda Rodriguez, Rosendo Rodriguez, and Cynthia Tamez. Felisha Yolanda Rodriguez’s bail was set at $1,000.
The Office of Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez will prosecute the cases.
In May, four other county residents were charged with voter fraud related to the 2017 Edinburg election. One of the accused was also a convicted human smuggler. Another was only charged with making a false statement on a voter registration form, a Class B misdemeanor. In June, they charged a fifth person with two counts of illegal voting.
To date, a total of 14 people stand accused of violating election laws in the 2017 Edinburg city election.
In Texas, it is a state jail felony to vote in an election using fraudulent ballot application information. The crime is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
More arrests are expected in Hidalgo County over last year’s purported illegal voting scheme in Edinburg. The Texas Rangers are assisting the AG’s Election Fraud Unit in this investigation.
Hidalgo County is one of several hotbeds of alleged voter fraud activity where the AG’s office has lent support and assistance to investigations conducted by local district attorneys. In 2015, newly sworn-in Hidalgo County DA Rodriguez vowed to curb public corruption.
This summer, a Hidalgo County grand jury indicted a non-U.S. citizen on a charge of illegal voting for marking a ballot without a voter’s consent in a June 2016 Hidalgo city runoff election. Two of her fellow campaign workers were implicated in the alleged voter assistance scheme. All stand accused of taking advantage of elderly and/or disabled voters.
Earlier this year, Paxton announced a significant voter fraud initiative in the adjacent Starr County where DA Omar Escobar pledged to crack down on voter fraud after questionable registrant records and mail-in ballot applications surfaced. Officials made seven arrests.
Recently, four North Texas women, who allegedly belonged to a paid voter fraud ring in Tarrant County, were indicted on 30 counts of voter fraud following an investigation by the AG’s office. Purportedly, they sought to influence the outcome of certain down-ballot candidate races in the 2016 March Democratic Party primary election. Court documents filed by Paxton’s office accused the county’s former Democratic Party executive director of funding the voter fraud ring’s criminal activities.
The Rio Grande Valley area also made national news before the 2018 election when the Public Interest Legal Foundation released a complaint to county and state officers regarding “altered” voter registration forms circulated by the Texas Democratic Party that were directed to noncitizen residents. The applications featured pre-printed claims of U.S. citizenship. The Texas Secretary of State referred the matter to Attorney General Paxton for further investigation. ProPublica reported that Paxton’s office “does not comment on potential investigations.”