DOJ Indicts Rep. Henry Cuellar, Wife On Federal Bribery Charges

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) is seen outside a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, November 17, 2022.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) is seen outside a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, November 17, 2022. Tom Williams/Getty Images

The Department of Justice indicted Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, on Friday for bribery, unlawful foreign influence and money laundering. The indictment comes more than two years after the federal law enforcement agency raided his home in Laredo, Texas.

Between 2014 and 2021, the Cuellars accepted about $600,000 in bribes from an oil and gas company owned by the government of Azerbaijan, and a Mexico City-based bank, the DOJ charges. In exchange for the bribes from the Azerbaijani company, Henry Cuellar “promised to influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Azerbaijan,” including in its dispute with neighboring Armenia, according to the DOJ indictment.

And in exchange for the funds from the Mexican bank, the federal government alleges that Henry Cuellar “agreed” to use his “influence” against anti-money laundering measures in Congress and the executive branch that “threatened” the bank’s interests. He also said he would support legislation to “block federal regulation of the payday lending industry.”

The couple hid the payments using layers of middlemen and a series of shell companies under Imelda Cuellar’s name, according to the DOJ indictment. If convicted, the couple could serve up to 20 years prison, though lighter sentences are more likely.

Henry Cuellar denied the charges in a defiant statement earlier in the day on Friday.

“I want to be clear that both my wife and I are innocent of these allegations,” he said in a statement that his office posted on X. “Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas.”

“Let me be clear, I’m running for reelection and will win this November,” he added.

Henry Cuellar and his wife were released from jail on a $100,000 unsecured bond on Friday, a DOJ source told HuffPost. He has agreed to step down from his post as ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s homeland security subcommittee while his case is open.

Hoping to capitalize on former President Donald Trump strong 2020 performance in Texas’ predominantly Latino border communities, national Republicans sought to knock the lawmaker out in 2022. But Henry Cuellar, the House’s last anti-abortion Democrat, triumphed over Cassy Garcia, a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), by more than 13 percentage points.

Also in 2022, Henry Cuellar, one of the House’s most conservative Democrats, faced his second consecutive primary challenge from progressive attorney Jessica Cisneros. Despite the scrutiny that he endured as a result of the raid on his home a few months earlier, he prevailed against Cisneros in a May 2022 runoff.

This year, Henry Cuellar did not have a primary challenger.