Texas Rep. Charged With Participating in International Bribery Scheme

The Department of Justice has charged Democratic Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar with participating in a scheme to commit  “bribery, unlawful foreign influence, and money laundering,” according to an indictment unsealed Friday.

Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, are accused of accepting “approximately $600,000 in bribes from two foreign entities: an oil and gas company wholly owned and controlled by the Government of Azerbaijan, and a bank headquartered in Mexico City.”

According to the Justice Department, Cuellar “allegedly agreed to use his office to influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Azerbaijan,” and “influence legislative activity and to advise and pressure high-ranking U.S. Executive Branch officials regarding measures beneficial to the bank.”  The scheme began in 2014 and continued through at least November 2021.

Cuellar and his wife have each been charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery of a federal official; two counts of bribery of a federal official; two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud; two counts of violating the ban on public officials acting as agents of a foreign principal; one count of conspiracy to commit concealment money laundering; and five counts of money laundering. The couple could each face a maximum of more than 200 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

“I want to be clear that both my wife and I are innocent of these allegations. Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas,” Cuellar said in a statement on Friday. “Before I took any action, I proactively sought legal advice from the House Ethics Committee, who gave me more than one written opinion, along with an additional opinion from a national law firm. The actions I took in Congress were consistent with the actions of many of my colleagues and in the interest of the American people.”

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

The Texas representative is the latest in a spate of congressional lawmakers facing criminal indictments. In September, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion. Prosecutors alleged that Menendez and his wife, Nadine, had “agreed to and did accept hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for using Menendez’s power and influence as a Senator to seek to protect and enrich” three businessmen: Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes. The charges included allegations that Menendez had abused his post to unlawfully aid the government of Egypt, and showed that investigators had found envelopes of cash and even solid bars of gold stashed throughout the senator’s home.

In October and March, prosecutors leveled additional charges against Menendez, accusing him of having illegally provided sensitive information to the governments of Egypt and Qatar. Despite the maelstrom of legal issues surrounding his position in the Senate, Menendez has been steadfast in his refusal to resign and is expected to stand trial later this month.

Former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) was indicted and arrested last May on charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and lying to Congress. In October the former congressman — already disgraced as a serial liar — was slapped with 23 additional counts related to an alleged credit card fraud scheme.

Santos was ultimately expelled from Congress in December after a damning report by the House Ethics Committee found “substantial” evidence that Santos had committed a slew of alleged crimes, and had used campaign funds at Hermès, OnlyFans, and Sephora, as well as for meals, parking, Botox, a luxury vacation in the Hamptons, honeymoon expenses, spa treatments, and to pay off his credit card bills.

Democrats in Congress are already reacting to the news of Cuellar’s indictment. On Friday, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) issued a statement affirming that “Cuellar has admirably devoted his career to public service and is a valued Member of the House Democratic Caucus. Like any American, Congressman Cuellar is entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process.”

Jefferies added that Cuellar would be taking a leave from his position as Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee until the case is resolved.

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