By Renzo Downey
Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and his wife, Dalia, were arrested Thursday by the Election Fraud Unit of the Texas attorney general's office and accused of running a vote-harvesting scheme.
In a statement, the attorney general's office said the couple had numerous voters in the border town of 90,000 in the Rio Grande Valley change their addresses to places where they didn't live, including an apartment complex owned by Molina. He defeated long-time incumbent Richard Garcia by 1,240 votes in 2017.
"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.
Molina denies any wrongdoing and does not plan to step down, Edinburg city spokeswoman Cary Zayas told the American-Statesman. He is working with his attorney and will release a personal statement early next week.
Since last year, 18 people have been arrested in connection with the scheme. Those involved include paid campaign workers, officials said.
Paxton blamed voter apathy on rigged elections and fixed outcomes and lauded Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez's commitment to election integrity on this case and others.
"My office will always do everything it can to protect the integrity of Texas elections and the rights of every legal voter to cast a ballot and have it counted accurately. No one is above the law," Paxton said.
The Hidalgo County district attorney's office has been cooperating with Election Fraud Unit investigators and will prosecute Molina and his wife, Paxton's office said.
"My office is appreciative of the many witnesses who have come forward and cooperated with the investigation, explaining how they were lured by an ambitious candidate into participating in an illegal voting scheme to elect Richard Molina," Rodriguez said in the attorney general's statement. "We encourage any additional witnesses who were pressured to engage in fraudulent voting in Molina's election to step forward and cooperate with authorities.
Molina was charged with engaging in organized election fraud and two counts of illegal voting and was released on bond. His wife was charged with illegal voting but also has been released.
The Rio Grande Valley has been a particular point of focus in Texas conversations about voter fraud. Two-thirds of the 91 Texas election fraud cases prosecuted from state investigations between 2006 and 2016 were in counties south of San Antonio. Only four of them involved in-person voter impersonation.
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