State authorities have arrested a fifth Hidalgo County voter in connection with an ongoing voter fraud investigation in the Rio Grande Valley.

Texas Rangers arrested Francisco Tamez, Jr. on Friday, on two felony counts of illegal voting in last year’s Edinburg mayoral election, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Johnny Hernandez confirmed to Texas Scorecard.

Four other suspects in the Edinburg voter fraud case were arrested a week earlier.

Crystal Lee Ponce, Veronica Vela Saenz, and Maria Aleman are each accused of illegal voting, a second-degree felony. The three allegedly registered to vote at an address in Edinburg, despite not living there at the time, so they could vote in the city’s 2017 election. Jose Antonio Vela allegedly made a false statement on a voter registration application, a Class B misdemeanor.

Rangers launched a voter fraud investigation in Hidalgo County earlier this year after receiving reports of suspected illegal voting in the City of Edinburg’s November 2017 municipal election. All five suspects arrested so far are supporters of Mayor Richard Molina.

Following the first four arrests, Molina took to Facebook to respond to the voter fraud investigation, which he says is one-sided and ignoring similar illegal voting by supporters of his political opponents. In a video posted May 29, Molina says that Mary Alice Palacios, a supporter of former Mayor Richard Garcia, is a “disgruntled former vendor” who has a political and personal “vendetta” against him.

Palacios filed a complaint in January with the Texas Secretary of State’s office that initiated the voter fraud investigation. Molina claims the complaint was politically motivated and says Palacios is actively campaigning for a recall election hoping to reinstate the former mayor.

Molina says in his video that it’s actually “Palacios family members and political supporters” who have “committed fraud in every election they’ve voted in using false addresses,” which he says includes the November 2017 Edinburg city election, the March 2018 primary, and “several elections from years past.”

According to Molina’s video, Palacios and other family members are paid political operatives who have multiple voters registered at their home addresses. He goes on to identify several people who he says voted in the November election but are registered at commercial addresses, or are registered in the city but he believes live elsewhere. Molina also notes that Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez is Palacios’ nephew — a potential conflict of interest.

Rodriguez’s office is working with the Rangers and the Texas Attorney General’s office to investigate the voter fraud allegations.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.