Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar and his wife indicted on bribery charges

A federal indictment unsealed Friday in Houston says Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar and his wife in a key battleground district were implicated in a year-long $600,000 bribery scheme involving banks in Azerbaijan and Mexico. He was charged with being involved.

The charges against Cuéllar, 68, and his wife Imelda, 67, are related to bribery and money transfers related to activities on behalf of an oil and gas company owned by the Azerbaijani leader and an unnamed bank based in Mexico. The charges center on laundering charges. According to the 54-page complaint, the city says:

Mr. Cuellar, a Laredo native who was first elected in 2004, is a top U.S. government official who has been involved in foreign affairs, including giving pro-Azerbaijan speeches in Congress and inserting provisions in aid bills that benefit payers. He is also accused of acting as an agent for an organization. bribes to his family;

The government paid Cuellar, a former Texas secretary of state, to support legislation aimed at preventing regulation of the payday lending industry, which has been accused of predatory lending practices against the poor. He claimed to have received it. Prosecutors said he also sought to weaken money laundering laws affecting Mexico’s banking sector.

Mr. Cuellar “agreed to influence legislative activity and advise and pressure senior officials in the U.S. executive branch regarding measures beneficial to banks,” the pair said.

The couple appeared before a federal judge in Houston on Friday and were released after each posting $100,000 bail. Hours before the indictment was unsealed, Cuellar issued a statement strongly denying his wrongdoing.

The minority leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, said Mr. Cuéllar would leave his post as the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee while he fights the charges.

Christy Stevenson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Jeffries, described Mr. Cuellar as a “valuable member of the House Democratic Caucus” and said he “is entitled to his day in court.”

The charges, long rumored, come at a volatile time for the increasingly powerful Democratic minority in the House. This immediately cast doubt on the party’s ability to capture politically and symbolically important constituencies along the Mexican border.

Cuellar is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, the only member of his party who opposes abortion, and has occasionally criticized the Biden administration. But he is a reliable Democratic vote on most issues.

The criminal charges are the same as the indictment against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who was indicted last year on charges of accepting bribes on behalf of an Egyptian company.

Payments to Mr. Cuellar and his wife, made between 2014 and 2021, were based on a “sham consulting contract” and a dummy owned by Mr. Cuellar who performed “little or no legitimate work” under the contract. The company was laundered through lawyers at the Department of Justice. Written by the Criminal Division. Two of the couple’s adult children are part owners of the business but were not charged.

Prosecutors have provided a detailed catalog of communications that show a close level of cooperation between Mr. Cuéllar and Azerbaijani officials and how he pressured Obama administration officials to take a tougher stance on Armenia. Revealed the evidence.

In January 2015, after his wife had already been paid $120,000 by the oil company, the congressman emailed an unnamed Azerbaijani diplomat a draft of a speech he was scheduled to deliver on the House floor, according to the indictment. . He praised the country’s efforts in the fight against terrorism.

A year later, Cuéllar texted the same diplomat to say he had introduced legislation favorable to Azerbaijan.

“You are the best El Jefe!” the diplomat replied.

Around the same time, Henry and Imelda Cuellar entered into a series of corrupt transactions with Mexican banks, prosecutors said. In March 2015, the lawmaker expressed concern that the arrangement would be discovered and asked bank officials to create an intermediary to “disguise” the payments.

“We need to find another plan,” Cuellar told officials, according to the indictment.

In a preliminary statement, Cuellar maintained his innocence and said he had cleared his wife’s work with the Ethics Commission.

“I want to make it clear that my wife and I are innocent of these allegations,” Cuellar said. “Everything I did in Congress was to serve the people of South Texas.”

He added: “Before taking any action, we proactively sought legal advice from the House Ethics Committee, which provided us with multiple written comments and additional comments from a national law firm.”

Cuellar said he tried to meet with federal prosecutors in Washington to explain his side of the story, but was denied an interview.

The FBI searched Mr. Cuellar’s Laredo home in 2022, but Mr. Cuellar narrowly won the primary against a more progressive challenger, Jessica Cisneros, anyway. Prominent Democrats were divided in the primaries. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive from New York, supported Mr. Cisneros, while senior leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, backed Mr. Cuellar.

On Friday, he vowed to continue his re-election campaign.

Azerbaijan, an oil-rich former Soviet republic in the Caucasus region, has been at the center of several major scandals involving influence misappropriation, corruption and electoral fraud.

It has a strong lobbying presence in the United States and has actively approached members of Congress to gain support for the conflict with Armenia over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

In 2013, the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan, controlled by the country’s leader, funneled $750,000 through a U.S. intermediary to pay for a junket to the country’s capital, Baku. 10 members of the Diet It has 32 employees, according to the House Ethics Committee.

Mr. Cuellar did not attend. But several other Texas lawmakers from both parties did so, and also brought home lavish gifts, including crystal tea sets and hand-woven rugs.

Prosecutors said that since his 2015 visit to Baku was made public, payments of retainers worth between $30,000 and $60,000 to Mr. Cuellar’s shell company had fallen into arrears.

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