US Rep. Henry Cuellar Faces Bribery Charges as Associates Plead Guilty

US Representative Henry Cuellar and his wife Imelda face a 14-count federal indictment on charges including bribery, wire fraud, and money laundering. Two former associates have pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder bribes as part of the alleged scheme.

author-image
Aqsa Younas Rana
New Update
US Rep. Henry Cuellar Faces Bribery Charges as Associates Plead Guilty

US Rep. Henry Cuellar Faces Bribery Charges as Associates Plead Guilty

US Representative Henry Cuellar, a powerful Democrat from South Texas, and his wife Imelda are facing a 14-count federal indictment on charges including bribery, wire fraud, and money laundering. The indictment alleges that the Cuellars accepted nearly $600,000 in bribes from the government of Azerbaijan and a Mexican bank in exchange for advancing their interests in the United States.

Why this matters: This scandal has significant implications for the integrity of the US political system, as it raises questions about the influence of foreign governments on American lawmakers. If convicted, Cuellar's case could set a precedent for holding elected officials accountable for corruption and abuse of power.

Two former associates of Cuellar, Colin Strother and Florencio "Lencho" Rendon, have pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder $200,000 in bribes as part of the scheme. Strother, who served as Cuellar's campaign manager and chief of staff, and Rendon, a San Antonio businessman and lobbyist, face up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

According to court documents, the alleged scheme began in 2015 when Rendon and Cuellar learned that the Mexican bank needed help doing business in the United States. Rendon signed a phony "consulting agreement" with the bank for $15,000 per month, with most of the money eventually being sent to the Cuellars through Strother, who acted as a middleman.

From March 2016 to February 2018, Strother transferred nearly $215,000 to Imelda Cuellar's company. Strother has stated that he understood "the true purpose of the payments" was to "funnel money" to Henry Cuellar without him having to disclose it.

Cuellar has asserted his innocence, stating that "both my wife and I are innocent of these allegations. Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas." His attorney, Chris Flood, said that as long as Strother and Rendon tell the truth, they are not worried.

Unlike other high-profile indictments of members of Congress, Cuellar's colleagues have not called for his resignation. Matthew Watkins, managing editor of The Texas Tribune, noted that this is unusual, as members of Congress are often pressured to resign after being indicted.

Federal prosecutors are signaling that they may try to limit disclosure of certain evidence in the case against Cuellar on grounds of national security. The Justice Department has requested a hearing to discuss how the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) could apply to the prosecution, which lays out procedures for preventing the accidental or unnecessary release of classified information during trials.

The indictment against Cuellar and his wife, unsealed last week, includes charges of conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, and acting as a foreign agent. If convicted, they face potential sentences of up to decades in prison and forfeiture of any property linked to proceeds from the alleged scheme. Cuellar, who has represented Texas' 28th Congressional District since 2005, is running for re-election, with two Republicans battling for their party's nomination in a runoff election this month.