Joel Martinez/The Monitor, via Associated Press[Read the latest edition of Crossing the Border, a limited-run newsletter about life where the United States and Mexico meet. Sign up here to receive the next issue in your inbox.]
EDINBURG, Tex. — The mayor of a South Texas border city was arrested Thursday on charges that he orchestrated an illegal voting scheme in which he asked residents of nearby towns to change their addresses so that they could cast votes for him.
The arrests of Richard Molina, the mayor of Edinburg, and his wife, Dalia Molina, came amid a bitter political fight in Texas over election fraud, and were made in a region with a long history of voting improprieties and public corruption scandals. The Molinas turned themselves in on Thursday morning.
Ken Paxton, the state’s Republican attorney general, whose office oversaw the investigation of Mr. Molina, has aggressively prosecuted voter fraud cases, even as a recent attempt by the state to purge noncitizens from the voter rolls was plagued by problems and inaccuracies.
Mr. Molina, 40, won the November 2017 election by 1,240 votes, and for nearly all of his tenure has been dogged by accusations of cheating. Municipal elections in Texas are nonpartisan.
Nearly 20 people have been arrested since last year in connection with the fraud case. Prosecutors said the scheme — involving Mr. Molina, his wife and paid campaign workers — was largely carried out by having numerous voters who did not live in Edinburg claim they were residents, including many who stated they lived in an apartment complex Mr. Molina owns.
According to court documents, Mr. Molina and his wife were both registered as volunteer voter registrars in the 2017 election and were authorized to help people fill out voter registration applications. Several of those with false addresses were signed by Mr. Molina and included his voter registrar number, according to the criminal complaint.
In that election, Mr. Molina, a former police officer, pulled off an upset victory by defeating the incumbent mayor, Richard Garcia, who had been mayor for 11 years and had been running for re-election.
“I feel that he didn’t steal the election away from me — he stole the election away from the community,” said Mr. Garcia, a lawyer. “The suspicions arose, when you started seeing, in checking the lists on the last days of the election, you started seeing a lot of names with the same address. There was one little house — it’s a 400- or…