HomePoliticsFormer aide and advisor close to U.S. Representative Cuellar pleads guilty and...

Former aide and advisor close to U.S. Representative Cuellar pleads guilty and agrees to assist the investigation

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A former top aide to the U.S. Representative. Henry Cuellar and a political and business consultant have agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to help the Democratic congressman from Texas launder more than $200,000 in bribes and to assist prosecutors in a federal criminal investigation, court documents show that were released this week.

Colin Strother, Cuellar’s former chief of staff and campaign manager, and Florencia Rendon, a business consultant and former chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, reached plea deals in March to ensure their cooperation with a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Cuellar. and his wife.

The Cuellars have been accused of taking nearly $600,000 in bribes from an Azerbaijani-controlled energy company and a bank in Mexico in exchange for advancing the country’s and bank’s interests in the US.

Cuellar, 68, has said he and his wife Imelda Cuellar, 67, are innocent.

In addition to bribery and conspiracy, the couple is also accused of fraud, acting as agents of foreign clients and money laundering. If convicted, they face decades in prison and forfeiture of any property linked to the proceeds of the alleged scheme.

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The plea deals for Strother, 50, and Rendon, 73, involve money laundering from Mexico. On Wednesday it was decided to terminate the agreements. Both men agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. Strother faces up to five years in prison, and Rendon faces up to 20 years in prison.

Investigators said Rendon and Cuellar were at a conference in Mexico City in 2015 when they devised a plan to arrange meetings with Mexican bank executives who needed help with money transfers from Mexican employees and to set up bogus contracts for consulting services provided by Imelda Cuellar would be delivered. . According to the indictment against the Cuellars, she performed “little or no legitimate work” in exchange for payment.

Rendon knew the contract was a “sham consulting contract” and that the $15,000 monthly payments were made to funnel money to Cuellar, the plea agreement said.

Rendon would send $11,000 a month to Strother, who in turn would send monthly payments of $10,000 to the Cuellars. According to the settlement, Strother transferred nearly $215,000 to the Cuellars from March 2016 to February 2018.

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At some point in 2018, Cuellar confronted Strother in a restaurant parking lot about missed payments to his wife, and Strother produced a spreadsheet on his phone to assure him the payments were up to date, according to the plea agreement.

“As long as Strother and Rendon are telling the truth, we have no concerns,” said Cuellar attorney Chris Flood. “At the appropriate time, the judge in this case will caution everyone about the credibility of Strother and Rendon if they do not do so.”

Attorneys for Strother and Rendon did not immediately return email and phone messages seeking comment.

Cuellar and his wife surrendered to authorities last week and were briefly taken into custody. They made their first appearance before a federal judge in Houston and were each released on $100,000 bond.

The FBI searched the congressman’s home in the border city of Laredo in 2022, and Cuellar’s attorney said at the time that Cuellar was not the target of that investigation.

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“Everything I did in Congress was to serve the people of South Texas,” Cuellar said last week. “Before taking any action, I proactively sought legal advice from the House Ethics Committee, which provided me with more than one written opinion, along with an additional opinion from a national law firm.”

Cuellar, one of the last anti-abortion Democrats in Congress, narrowly defeated progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros by fewer than 300 votes in a 2022 primary.

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