Charges filed last week against two more South Texas voter fraud suspects, including a city official, brings the total to 22 accused of participating in an illegal voting scheme prosecutors say was coordinated by a local mayor.

Authorities arrested Edinburg City Secretary Ludivina Leal and Alyssa Cano of Pharr on September 3, charging each with one count of illegal voting in Edinburg’s November 2017 mayoral election.

Leal and Cano are the latest to be implicated in an organized vote-harvesting operation to elect Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina—a scheme allegedly orchestrated by then-candidate Molina himself. Molina unseated longtime incumbent Mayor Richard Garcia in that election by over 1,200 votes.

Leal is an Edinburg resident but apparently allowed another suspect who does not live in the city to falsely register to vote using her address. Leal was appointed as Edinburg’s city secretary in March 2018.

Cano is reported to be an employee of Julio Carranza, one of Molina’s alleged co-conspirators charged in the case and a former member of Edinburg’s economic development corporation.

Mayor Molina was arrested in April along with his wife, Dalia Molina. Prosecutors allege they enticed people who lived outside Edinburg to fraudulently register at addresses inside the city for the explicit purpose of voting illegally for Molina for mayor. Texas law requires voters to register and vote where they actually reside.

Investigators found evidence Molina personally helped multiple voters change their registration addresses—some to the address of an apartment complex he owns—while acting as a deputy voter registrar for Hidalgo County.

The couple was charged in June with felony voter fraud. Molina was indicted on one count of engaging in organized election fraud, a first-degree felony under a law passed in 2017; and 11 counts of illegal voting, a second-degree felony. His wife was named as a co-conspirator and indicted on one count of organized election fraud and two counts of illegal voting. Ten other co-conspirators were named in the indictment, including Carranza.

Carranza and the Molinas are expected to be back in court for pre-trial hearings in November.

Texas Rangers launched a voter fraud investigation into the Edinburg election in April 2018, after receiving reports of suspected illegal voting activity by Molina supporters. Five suspects were arrested that summer on charges of illegally voting or falsely registering to vote within the city; ten more were arrested in October 2018, including a campaign worker for Molina.

It’s against state law to register to vote at an address where you don’t live, or to induce another person to make a false statement on a voter registration form.

Molina maintains he’s innocent and has accused his political opponents of engaging in the same type of illegal behavior with which he’s been charged. Voter fraud cases are common in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where campaign workers known as politiqueras have been caught falsifying voter registration and mail ballot applications as well as coercing voters under the guise of providing assistance.

The investigation is ongoing. Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez is prosecuting the case with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Election Fraud Unit.

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.