Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
A Hidalgo County jury on Thursday acquitted former Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina of several voter fraud charges stemming from the 2017 election that brought him to power, according to local reports.
Local news outlets reported Molina was acquitted of 12 counts, including one count of engaging in organized voter fraud and 11 counts of illegal voting. His high-profile arrest by the state’s election fraud unit in 2019 was announced by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as part of what Paxton described as “an organized illegal voting scheme” in the November 2017 municipal election.
The case was prosecuted by the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to a 2019 news release from the attorney general’s office, Molina was accused of directing voters to change their addresses to places where they did not live — including an apartment complex owned by Molina — so they could vote for him. Molina won the election by 1,240 votes, unseating then-incumbent Mayor Richard Garcia in the South Texas town.
By the time Molina was detained, 18 others had been arrested in connection with the scheme, according to the attorney general’s office, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Some of those cases are still ongoing.
The Monitor newspaper in McAllen reported that prosecutors described the case as one “about lying and cheating.” Among the state’s witnesses were three voters who testified that Molina asked them to change addresses on their voter registrations.
Molina has long maintained his innocence, labeling the investigation as politically motivated. During the trial, Molina’s attorneys said he had not intended to violate election laws. They presented a “mistake of law defense,” arguing the former mayor relied on “reasonable authorities” when he instructed voters they could change the address to participate in Edinburg elections, according to reports by The Monitor.
The full program is now LIVE for the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 22-24 in Austin. Explore the schedule of 100+ mind-expanding conversations coming to TribFest, including the inside track on the 2022 elections and the 2023 legislative session, the state of public and higher ed at this stage in the pandemic, why Texas suburbs are booming, why broadband access matters, the legacy of slavery, what really happened in Uvalde and so much more. See the program.