Former Weslaco commissioner testifies against cousin A.C. Cuellar in bribery trial

5 months 6 days 4 hours ago Wednesday, October 12 2022 Oct 12, 2022 October 12, 2022 11:21 PM October 12, 2022 in News - Local

More witnesses were called to the stand Wednesday in the federal bribery trial linked to a Weslaco water plant and several officials in Hidalgo and Starr counties.

As previously reported, former Weslaco City Commissioner John Cuellar, his uncle, former Hidalgo County Commissioner Arturo “A.C.” Cuellar, Rio Grande City attorney Daniel Garcia and Weslaco businessman Richard Quintanilla are all named in a 2019 indictment that accused them of conspiring to steer Weslaco's city commission into hiring certain companies for the construction of a water treatment plant in the city of Weslaco.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Weslaco bribery trial begins

During Wednesday's hearing, a criminal investigator with the IRS went over Arturo Cuellar’s tax returns showing he made over $20,000 in 2010 and over $400,000 in 2013 in consulting fees.

Tax returns from 2013 also indicated Cuellar transferred over $400,000 to Leonel Lopez, a former Rio Grande City municipal judge, who was included in the government's accusation of being part of the bribery scheme.

Lopez pleaded guilty in the corruption case, but died on Nov. 14, 2020.

In March 2019, Lopez confessed in federal court for accepting more than $4 million in bribes from engineering companies. Lopez pocketed more than $2.5 million while bribing former Weslaco city commissioner John Cuellar, according to federal court documents.

During Wednesday's hearing, the jury learned that in 2006, businessman Ricardo Quintanilla approached current Weslaco city Attorney Jose Gonzalez for help in paying campaign workers for a variety of candidates running in Hidalgo County.

In 2015, Gonzalez said Quintanilla told him that if anyone asked about the purpose of the money, to say it was for consulting services. Lucy Lozano, co-owner and co-founder of the Corpus Christi-based company Quality Ready Mix, also took to the stand Wednesday.

Lozano testified that Arturo Cuellar, one of the company's founders, put his cousin – John Cuellar – as a consultant for the company. John Cuellar was paid with two monthly checks of $5,000 from 2011 through 2014.

The defense argued there was nothing illegal about hiring John Cuellar as a legal counsel who was paid at a fixed rate. Attorneys with the federal government explained they were unable to find invoices related to any legal consulting work for Quality Ready Mix by John Cuellar.

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