The federal government wants two middlemen in the Weslaco water treatment plant corruption case to forfeit nearly $1 million in ill-gotten gains.
Former Hidalgo County Commissioner Arturo “A.C.” Cuellar Jr., 68, of Progreso Lakes should forfeit about $947,000, according to a motion filed Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. Businessman Ricardo “Rick” Quintanilla, 55, of Weslaco should forfeit nearly $44,000.
U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez discussed the matter with prosecutors and defense attorneys during a hearing on Tuesday afternoon but didn’t make a decision. She may issue a preliminary order within the next few weeks.
A.C. Cuellar and Quintanilla bribed members of the Weslaco City Commission to approve contracts worth more than $50 million, according to witness testimony and documents filed in the case against them.
After a lengthy investigation, prosecutors charged seven people with participating in the conspiracy.
Three members of the City Commission confessed to accepting bribes. A.C. Cuellar and Quintanilla, though, denied any wrongdoing.
After a two-week trial, a jury took just four hours to find them guilty. Sentencing is scheduled for January.
Prison, however, isn’t the only punishment they face. Prosecutors want A.C. Cuellar and Quintanilla to forfeit any money they made during the conspiracy.
The bribery scheme brought together engineers, local power brokers and members of the City Commission.
Former Rio Grande City Municipal Judge Leonel J. Lopez Jr. — the reputed mastermind behind the bribery scheme — accepted more than $4.1 million from engineers.
From 2011 to 2014, he paid $1,278,500 to A.C. Cuellar, according to the motion.
A.C. Cuellar, meanwhile, arranged for Quality Ready Mix, a company he co-owned, to place former Weslaco City Commissioner John F. Cuellar on the payroll.
Quality Ready Mix paid $405,000 to John Cuellar during the conspiracy, which left A.C. Cuellar with $873,500.
At the time, A.C. Cuellar owned 49.5% of Quality Ready Mix.
“Quality Ready Mix deducted the bribe payments made to John Cuellar as sham legal expenses on their tax return,” according to the motion. “Quality Ready Mix is a pass-through taxing entity, which results in net profits or losses being proportionally attributable to their respective owners and/or partners.”
The deductions allowed A.C. Cuellar to avoid $73,954 in taxes.
Prosecutors want A.C. Cuellar to forfeit $947,454, which accounts for both the money he kept and the fraudulent tax deductions he received, according to the motion.
Lopez also made payments to Quintanilla, who received $87,080 from 2011 to 2014.
Quintanilla cashed the checks and apparently split the money with Weslaco City Commissioner Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla. How much cash Tafolla actually received isn’t clear.
Prosecutors requested that Quintanilla forfeit $43,540, which represents half the amount he received from Lopez.