‘I’m not guilty’ says Former Edinburg Mayor during Voter Fraud Trial
The voter fraud trial for former Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina began with prosecutors and defense attorneys’ opening statements presented to the jury Tuesday afternoon before having 9 of 20 plus witnesses testifying on Wednesday.
“Judge, I’m not guilty,” Molina pleaded to the court to 11 charges of illegal voting and one charge of engaging in organized election fraud.
Prosecutor Michael Garza approached the jury and explained that although the given evidence will be documents and voter registration cards, most of the evidence will come from over 20 witnesses.
“The people who voted illegally…they’re going to tell you about it,” Garza said. “The sole reason they did that was because they were solicited. They were encouraged by the defendant…to do such.”
The prosecutor explained that Molina’s wife, Dalia Molina, and business partner, Julio Carranza, worked alongside Molina.
“Your vote is your voice,” he told the jury. “And lying and cheating have no place in our Democratic process.”
Attorney Carlos Andres Garcia began his opening statement by highlighting Molina’s humble beginnings: the son of Rebecca and Reynaldo Molina, the youngest of 6 children, a military man who served in Bosnia and eventually worked with the Edinburg Police Department as Sergeant, where he worked security at City Council meetings.
“He stood. He watched. And he learned,” Garcia said. “And he saw how the city council worked.”
Molina’s interest in politics shifted as he witnessed people in the community be rejected on requests for rezonings or business because of a lack of connection to political power.
“People weren’t treated the same,” Garcia said.
Molina decided to then run for office and questioned aspects of the voting process, such as how one registers voters. Therefore, during his campaign, he became a deputy registrar through the Hidalgo County Elections Department to assist voters.
“It’s the first time he realizes residency is a choice,” said Garcia.
Conflict arose as Attorney Jaime Peña later echoed Garcia’s statement and informed jurors of a change to election law in 2021, leading Judge Carlos Valdez to hold recess and attend to the attorneys after Garza called the first objection of the day.
Judge Carlos Valdez is a visiting state district judge from Corpus Christi.
“We addressed this before we began,” said Garza, referring to the motion hearing held that same morning.
Peña further clarified the vagueness of the term of residency after Valdez questioned what the change in the law had to do with the case. Peña later stated that Molina used a “mistake of law defense” for the trial.
Valdez reminded the jury that only he would define the law alongside the charges at the end of the trial.
Belinda Sagredo, a deputy registrar with the Hidalgo County Election department for 34 years, sat as the first witness for cross-examination that evening before continuing the following day.
Sagredo explained the voter registration process after being questioned by Garza.
The Molinas were identified as voter deputy registrars, who she trained in a class of 20 people during his campaign. Sagredo further explained the training process, which was an hour-long class.
According to Sagredo, voter deputy registrars are assigned a deputy number to monitor who they registered.
She also stated that the Elections Department interprets the law the way the Secretary of State advises it. After being questioned by Peña, she explained further.
“We call the Secretary of State’s number and ask for legal guidance,” said Sagredo, who mentioned the department has called about residence.
Peña asked the witness to explain how one could attain voting history records, as Molina obtained a copy of a voter roll before his run to see who and who was not voting in city elections.
“It’s public record,” she said, explaining that sensitive information such as a phone number and social security are omitted. “It would just be your name and the address.”
Sagredo further explained why candidates want to request a record of voter rolls and how it’s a common occurrence.
“They’ll go ahead and do that. We hear that they [the candidates] want to mail out information,” Sagredo said.
The court then recessed before restarting the next day on Wednesday morning.
‘I trusted him’ say friends, colleagues, and family of Richard Molina
That Wednesday morning, Sagredo continued her testimony on the witness stand and provided voting records to the court.
Peña questioned Sagredo on the Election Code and its definition of residence.
One of the definitions of residence stated it ‘means domicile, that is, one’s home and fixed place of habitation to which one intends to return after any temporary absence.’
“The State Legislature added to that definition, correct?” Peña asked Sagredo, to which she replied ‘correct.’
“You understand that [the common law] is evolving?” said Peña.
“Yes,” Sagredo answered.
Sagredo then told Garza that she never spoke to the District Attorney for any residence or law issue. He asked if she presented the Election Code law to the deputy voter registrar, to which she responded ‘no.’
“Can you see that in that statute you put up that it says that it would fall in importance with the common law rules except as otherwise provided by this code? Do you understand that in the court of law that the judge is the one that provides the law to the jury?” Garza asked. “And that’s the law they identify?”
Sagredo said yes. Peña then re-examined.
“You understand that the legislature decides what that law is, correct?” asked Peña. “For example, this jury gets to hear the legislature from the legislatures from the state. You would infer to them or have a discussion on what this law actually is, right? You trust what the Secretary of State of the District Attorney’s office tells you?”
After Sagredo answered ‘yes,’ she was dismissed.
Nine more witnesses came after Sagredo; Adolfo Cantu of Donna, Richard Ramirez and Araceli Ramirez of McAllen, Oralia Leal of Donna, Hailee Garcia, Victor Prado of McAllen, Dyandra Valle of Alamo, Edward Ramos of Pharr, and Jerry Gonzalez Jr. of Pharr.
Witnesses claimed that Molina constantly called and texted reminders for them to vote as the deadline approached and would only require their signature and name for the voter registration applications or change of address process.
“He tells me ‘it’s not a big deal, people do it all the time,'” said Molina’s former friend Adolfo Cantu, visibly nervous as Prosecutor Garza questioned him.
Cantu, who works in construction, explained to the jury that his address was changed to the apartment address of Ray Molina, the defendant’s brother. Cantu said the apartment was brought up as a topic when Ray began a conversation about a busted water line in the witness’ home.
The witness stated that he declined the defendant’s brother and his offer to have a place to stay for a minor inconvenience.
After the election, Richard texted him to pick up a package. Cantu, thinking it was a gift, was surprised to find it was a copy of Ray’s apartment key. The defendant instructed Cantu “to produce it if questioned” by authorities.
“I think [the] gift is a joke and a slap in the face,” said Cantu.
The witness stated that while he did sign a voter application, his signature was the only authentic information given as the rest was written by campaign employee, Hailee Garcia.
Cantu uttered a “Molina, I’m sorry.” before his dismissal.
Hailee Garcia was fresh out of high school when Richard offered her a job at his campaign headquarters. The defendant gave her the job of assisting with voter applications, including those who committed voter fraud.
Garcia, trained in voter registration assistance, only worked with Richard’s campaign for 2 to 3 weeks and told Prosecutor Garza of her uneasiness with her involvement in illegal voting.
“I felt like there [were] a lot of things going wrong,” Garcia said. “The moment he told me not to match the ID, I knew.”
Defendant Attorney Peña, however, corrected Garcia during his cross-examination.
“By state law, you’re not allowed to check the IDs, correct?” asked Peña. “You’re not supposed to be challenging people to vote by checking their IDs. You were trained [for] that, weren’t you?”
Garcia confirmed that she was.
“That was consistent with the law, and you were feeling bad about something that was the right thing,” Peña said as Garcia confirmed with a ‘correct’ before being dismissed.
Victor Prado, a cousin to Richard Molina, almost got divorced due to illegally voting in the 2017 Edinburg Mayoral Race.
Prado told prosecutors that he had his address changed at a family event, to which he only questioned once and was told by Molina to trust him.
When asked about how his wife reacted to changing their address to Prado’s father’s, he said ‘she didn’t like it.’
“I almost got divorced,” Prado said.
Peña pointed out that Prado voted for Molina in 2013, but Prado explained he lived with his father at the time.
Prado was then dismissed.
Former Citywide Funding (formerly known as Landmark Mortgage) employee Jerry Gonzalez Jr. said he would see Richard at mixers hosted at the office.
“We always have after-hour mixers where we were told to invite builders and realtors, just people to network and to grow our business as vendors,” said Gonzalez. “In those mixers…Mr. Molina would show up and talk to everybody. It was at those parties where my address was changed.”
Garza asked Gonzalez about the application process.
“It was known that I didn’t live in Edinburg,” Gonzalez stated. The witness said he signed the document out of pressure from his boss, Julio Carranza, and Richard. “It was pre-filled. At the time, I thought I would sign the form. When the time came to vote, I wouldn’t go.”
The address used for Gonzalez belonged to Julio Carranza’s brother, Edgar.
Gonzalez experienced anxiety and described Richard as intimidating and admitted to wanting to please his boss.
“I was brand new to the industry. I didn’t know any better,” said Gonzalez. “I just felt the pressure.”
Despite his hesitancy, Gonzalez voted in the Edinburg 2017 Election, saying he feared that Richard and Carranza would somehow be aware that he didn’t vote.
“Each day during the voting week, I would get a text from Mr. Molina asking, ‘have you gone to go vote?’ My response each time was just another excuse…just anything that would give him the run-around,” Gonzalez said.
The witness said he built anxiety in his head, worried about not voting and if his boss and the former Edinburg Mayor would be aware if he did not.
“I parked in the parking lot and called my wife,” Gonzalez said, explaining he spoke with her for over half an hour. “I told her, ‘this doesn’t feel right. I shouldn’t do it.’ In the end, she’s like, ‘Well, they’re going to know you didn’t do it.'”
The witness admitted to going against his better judgment before being approached by Attorney Garcia, who noticed he did not have an attorney present.
“You feel so comfortable after facing a criminal charge to walk into this courtroom in front of this jury and just speak freely and openly of a crime you’re accused of?”
“I don’t feel comfortable at all…I have been looking forward to this day to get it over with,” Gonzalez replied, being the first of the witnesses to have been arrested due to illegal voting. “I feel I need to be a man about it and right my wrongs.”
After Gonzalez was dismissed, Karen Michelle Mendez of Weslaco, who worked for Julio and Edgar Carranza at CJE Construction, took the stand. Mendez told the jury that Julio told her to change her address.
“He had me go into his office, change my address. The whole reason for this change was that Julio and Mr. Molina were going to help CJE grow commercially,” Mendez said. “How was she not going to be on board and change her address to help the business grow?”
Judge Valdez called for a recess, and the trial will continue Thursday and Friday morning.
Daily updates on the Richard Molina v. the State of Texas trial will be available on progresstimes.net.