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Businessman sentenced to nearly 17 years in Weslaco water treatment plant bribery case

A businessman who bribed a member of the Weslaco City Commission was sentenced to nearly 17 years in prison Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Ricardo “Rick” Quintanilla, 55, of Weslaco to 200 months in prison — nearly 17 years — during a hearing on Wednesday afternoon. Along with the lengthy prison sentence, Alvarez ordered him to pay a $15,000 fine and $4.1 million in restitution.

“I’m deeply sorry to my family for what I put them through,” Quintanilla said.

He offered no apology to the citizens of Weslaco and didn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing.

After reviewing a report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office and objections from Quintanilla’s attorneys, Alvarez said the federal sentencing guidelines recommended 292 to 365 months in prison.

William J. Gullotta, a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section who prosecuted the case, requested a sentence within the guideline range. Attorney Jaime Peña of McAllen, who represented Quintanilla, asked the court to consider probation and community service.

Alvarez settled on 200 months, but she admonished Quintanilla for participating in the bribery scheme.

“If our public officials can’t be trusted, then we really do become a lawless society,” Alvarez said.


Businessman Ricardo “Rick” Quintanilla leaves the federal courthouse in McAllen on Friday, Oct. 14. (Photo by Dave Hendricks / The Progress Times.)


Prosecutors accused Quintanilla of bribing Weslaco City Commissioner Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla. In exchange for cash, Tafolla steered contracts worth more than $50 million to certain engineers.

Quintanilla pleaded not guilty.

During an eight-day trial, prosecutors described a conspiracy that involved engineers, a series of middlemen and members of the City Commission.

San Antonio-based Briones Consulting & Engineering and McAllen-based LeFevre Environmental & Management Consulting, which had contracts with Weslaco, paid more than $4.1 million to Leonel J. Lopez Jr., a Starr County politician.

Lopez paid $93,930 to Quintanilla from 2009 to 2014, according to a forensic accountant who testified during the trial. The money arrived in 56 checks that ranged from $500 to $5,000.

Prosecutors accused Quintanilla of cashing the checks and splitting the money with Tafolla.

How much Quintanilla actually paid Tafolla remains unclear.

When he pleaded guilty, Tafolla confessed to accepting at least $20,000. When he testified at trial, Tafolla estimated the total fell between $10,000 and $15,000.

“I can’t remember the exact amount,” Tafolla said on Oct. 14, when he took the witness stand.

Tafolla also struggled to remember other details about the scheme, including where they cashed the checks.

When asked whether or not he would forget a bribe, though, Tafolla had a clear answer: “No.”

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