A Texas mayor was arrested for voter fraud for allegedly attempting to rig his own election, state Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Thursday.
Authorities charged Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina with organized election fraud, a first-degree felony, and two counts of illegal voting for allegedly making voters change their addresses to places they did not live, including an apartment complex he owned.
Molina unseated the city’s longtime mayor by about 1,200 votes in 2017. Located along the U.S.-Mexico border, Edinburg is home to headquarters for U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations in the Rio Grande Valley. The city’s population is about 90,000.
City spokeswoman Cary Zayas said the mayor “very adamantly” denies wrongdoing. His wife, Dalia, was also arrested for illegal voting.
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“My client and his wife are victims of a power struggle,” attorney Carlos Garcia, who represents the mayor, told The Progress Times on Thursday. “We intend to fight these charges, and both of them are absolutely innocent of what the state alleges.”
Eighteen people have been arrested for Molina’s alleged scheme, according to the attorney general’s office. The office declined to say whether the allegedly fraudulent votes changed the election results.
“Voter fraud is an affront to democracy and places the decision-making authority of the Texas electorate in the hands of those who have no right to make those choices,” Paxton said in a statement released Thursday. “Voter apathy is caused by rigged elections with guaranteed outcomes.”
Rumors circulated about voter fraud, The Progress Times reported, shortly after the November 2017 election. Molina ousted incumbent Richard Garcia with nearly 54 percent of about 8,400 ballots cast, according to Hidalgo County Elections Department records.
A complaint was filed with the Secretary of State’s Office one month later, the newspaper reported.
In May 2018, Molina claimed the investigation into the city’s elections was politically motivated in an eight-minute video posted to his Facebook page.
“Why have local authorities only targeted people who supported me?” Molina said. “The people of Edinburg voted loud and clear in November 2017. They voted for change. They voted for me. … A handful of weak accusations will not change the outcome.”
Molina’s arrest follows tension over voting in Texas, where Republicans are pushing a bill to toughen penalties for election crimes while Democrats say it could punish honest mistakes.
Municipal elections in Texas are nonpartisan, and Zayas said she does not know whether Molina has a party affiliation.
A federal judge in February said there was no evidence of widespread election fraud in Texas after state officials incorrectly questioned the U.S. citizenship of thousand of voters.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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