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Businessman pleads not guilty in Weslaco water treatment plant bribery case

A businessman charged in the Weslaco water treatment plant case pleaded not guilty Monday.

Ricardo “Rick” Quintanilla, 51, of Weslaco pleaded not guilty to bribery, money laundering and wire fraud charges. U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter E. Ormsby set bond at $50,000 with no collateral required.

“In light of the circumstances, I feel that’s adequate and appropriate,” Ormsby said.

While the indictment against Quintanilla is troubling, he maintains strong ties to the community and isn’t considered a flight risk, Ormsby said. Prosecutors didn’t object to bond.

“Mr. Quintanilla is presumed innocent as to all charges,” Ormsby said.

Prosecutors believe Quintanilla bribed a member of the Weslaco City Commission.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez provided details about the scheme on March 22, when Leonel J. Lopez Jr. — who served as Rio Grande City municipal judge and worked for state Rep. Ryan Guillen — pleaded guilty to bribery.

“To provide bribe payments to Commissioner B, the defendant enlisted Individual B, who agreed to secure Commissioner B’s participation and act as a conduit for bribe payments to Commissioner B,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lopez said. “The defendant paid Individual B approximately $92,950 by checks and Individual B would cash the checks and split the cash with Commissioner B. The purpose of making the payments in this way was to further conceal and promote the ongoing bribery scheme.”

Individual B is Quintanilla, a businessman who served on the Weslaco Economic Development Corp. board and unsuccessfully campaigned for City Commission in November 2014.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lopez described Commissioner B as “a current Weslaco City Commissioner who has served since 2009.”

City Commissioner Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla, who works for Hidalgo County Precinct 1, is the only person who matches that description. He didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The 18-count indictment charged Quintanilla with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, six counts of honest services wire fraud, federal program bribery, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, eight counts of money laundering and violating the federal Travel Act.

The most serious charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Quintanilla is scheduled for a final pretrial hearing on May 2.

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