Texas Representative Henry Cuellar and wife indicted on bribery and foreign influence charges

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Friday Issued charge sheet Longtime Rep. Henry Gullar, D-Texas, and his wife, Imelda, have been charged with bribery and money laundering in connection with their ties to a bank in Mexico and an Azerbaijan-controlled oil and gas company.

NBC News was the first to report the allegations. The congressman and his wife were released on $100,000 bond each after their initial appearance in federal court in Houston, a DOJ spokesman said Friday afternoon.

According to the indictment, from 2014 to 2021, the congressman allegedly received approximately $600,000 in bribes from two foreign entities in exchange for performing official acts.

The DOJ said in a statement that “the bribes were allegedly embezzled pursuant to bogus consulting contracts through a series of front companies and intermediaries in shell companies owned by Imelda Cuellar who performed no legitimate work under the contracts.”

“Congressman Guler allegedly agreed to use his office to influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Azerbaijan in exchange for bribes from the Azerbaijan Oil and Gas Company,” the DOJ continued. “In exchange for bribes paid by the Mexican bank, Congressman Cuellar allegedly agreed to influence legislative action and to advise and pressure high-ranking US executive branch officials on actions beneficial to the bank.

The congressman and his wife are each charged with two counts of conspiracy to bribe a federal official and conspiracy to have a public official act as an agent of a foreign president; two counts of bribing a federal official; two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; two counts of violating the ban on public officials acting as agents of a foreign principal; one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering by concealment; and five counts of money laundering.

If convicted, they could face years or decades in prison.

In a statement Friday before the charges were unsealed, Cuellar denied any wrongdoing, saying he “primarily sought legal advice” from the House Ethics Committee, which issued “more than one written opinion” on the matter. Much of his reporting focused on his wife.

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“I want to make it clear that my wife and I are innocent of these allegations. Everything I did in Congress was to serve the people of South Texas,” Cuellar said in his statement, later adding: “The actions I took in Congress were consistent with the actions of many of my colleagues and were in the best interest of the American people. people.”

“Imelda and I have been married for 32 years. On top of being a wonderful wife and mother, she is an accomplished entrepreneur with two degrees. He spent his career working in banking, tax and consulting,” he continued. “It’s wrong and hurtful to say he’s qualified and hard-working.”

A defiant Cuellar also made it clear he would run for re-election: “Let me be clear, I’m running for re-election and I’m going to win this November.”

Congressional defense attorneys’ statement was similar to Cuellar’s, but prosecutors charged him six months before Election Day.

“The Government’s decision to move forward with the charges so close to the general election – and their decision to execute a search warrant 40 days before [2022] The primary — undermines the electorate and puts a thumb on the scale,” said attorneys Chris Flood and Eric Reid.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, DNY and other top Democratic leaders endorsed Cuellar’s re-election bid last summer. In a statement, Jeffries’ spokeswoman Christy Stephenson called Cuellar “a valued member of the Assembly’s Democratic caucus,” noting that Cuellar “has the right to be presumed innocent throughout his day in court and through the legal process.”

Meanwhile, Cuellar will step down as the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the Department of Homeland Security, Stephenson said.

Cuellar’s home and campaign office in Laredo, Texas, were raided in January 2022 as part of a federal investigation into Azerbaijan and a group of American businessmen with ties to the country, law enforcement said at the time. His office pledged to cooperate with the investigation. In April, Cuellar’s attorney, Joshua Berman, told some news agencies Federal officials told him he was not a target for investigation.

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Guler is a one-time co-chairman of the Azerbaijan Caucus of Congress. According to the indictment, in exchange for bribes, Guler promised to influence legislation related to Azerbaijan’s conflict with neighboring Armenia; Insert pro-Azerbaijan language into legislation and committee reports on security and economic assistance programs; delivering a pro-Azerbaijan speech on the House floor; and “consult” with Azerbaijani officials about their efforts to lobby the US government.

Ahead of the indictment, Cuellar’s staff called other members’ offices Friday to get advice on how to handle the situation, a source familiar with the calls told NBC News.

A year after the raid on his home — which previously yielded no arrests or charges — Cuellar told the Texas Tribune: “There was no wrongdoing on my part. … My focus has remained the same since my first day in office: delivering results for Texans across my district.”

Despite the ordeal, Cuellar defeated a progressive challenger, Jessica Cisneros, in her 2022 primary and won re-election to her seat that November. He does not face a primary challenger this year and will be on the ballot this November for his 11th term in Congress.

Two years ago, Gullard easily defeated Republican candidate Casey Garcia, 57% to 43%. His district turned blue when he took parts of San Antonio following redistricting. But the indictment will make Cuellar more vulnerable than in the past; In 2020, Joe Biden won Culler’s district over Donald Trump by 7 percentage points.

The two Republicans will face each other in a runoff at the end of May.

“Henry Cuellar doesn’t put Texas first, he puts himself first,” said Delanie Bomar, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “If his colleagues truly believed in putting ‘people above politics’, they would call for his resignation. If not – they are hypocrites whose statements on public service are not worth the paper they are written on.”

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Cuellar, 66, is an attorney, a former customs broker and Texas secretary of state. A member of the centrist Blue Dogs and the New Democratic Alliance, Guller was elected to the House in 2004.

He is the only Democrat left in Congress who opposes abortion rights — a move that has angered many in his party.

The Guelars are the second Congress couple to be indicted in the foreign bribery scheme in the past year. In September, the DOJ, then-Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, DN.J. and his wife were charged with allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars, including gold bars, in exchange for official activities to enrich and benefit three New Jersey businessmen. Egyptian government. Both Cuellar and Menendez are members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Menendez, who recused himself from leading foreign affairs, has pleaded not guilty. His trial is set to begin later this month.

A third lawmaker, George Santos, a New York Republican, was ousted from the House in December after a scathing ethics report and 23-count federal indictment on charges of wire fraud and money laundering. Santos has pleaded not guilty.

Correction (May 3, 2024, 4:59 pm ET): Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly shared a statement. That came from Christy Stephenson, a spokeswoman for House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, not Jeffries.

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