Category Archives: Rio Grande Valley corruption

Election Manipulation Dies Hard in Weslaco, Texas

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The testimony above is from the Feb. 4, 2014 deposition of Maria Berrones, a proud Weslaco voter who has some experience with current candidate for Wesalco Commission District 5, Lupe Rivera, Jr.

Recently, Rivera, Jr. announced that he would challenge Letty Lopez for the District 5 Commissioner seat, providing another chapter in this ongoing struggle against illegal voting practices in South Texas.

After a four-day trial in March 2014, Letty Lopez, represented by Najvar Law Firm, won a landmark election contest.  She proved 30 illegal votes were cast in the November 2013 election between Lopez and Lupe Rivera, Sr, nearly twice the margin of victory. Ten of those votes were cast by friends and relatives of Lupe Rivera, Sr., who registered to vote in District 5 but did not live in District 5. Twenty votes were illegal because the Rivera campaign had violated one or more Election Code statutes specifically passed to protect against coercion or fraud in mail-in balloting. The district court ordered a new election. Najvar Law Firm successsfully defended the case on appeal, and that opinion–from Texas’s Thirteenth Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi–provides a valuable precedent enforcing the residency requirement in the Election Code, and the anti-fraud provisions regarding mail-in ballots.

Back to Maria Berrones.  Her testimony proved devastating to Rivera’s defense, because here-for once-was a rare example of someone willing and able to testify to exactly the type of coercion and abuse of elderly mail-ballot voters that is commonplace in South Texas elections. She said she requested a mail-in ballot because Lupe Rivera, Sr. had come by her house and suggested that she vote by mail. He told her to call him when the ballot arrived, and not to give it to anyone else. He showed up at Berrones’ house after it arrived, even before she called. She handed it to him and he filled it out. He didn’t ask how she wanted to vote. He handed it to her to sign, then left in a hurry because he had to visit other people.

Berrones’s family was incensed when they heard what happened, and tried to take her to vote in person with them, hoping they could cancel the mail ballot. Berrones testified that she wanted to vote for Lopez. But the poll workers told her that the mail ballot had already been counted, so she could not vote:

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After trial, the district court found the evidence sufficient to conclude that the ballot was illegal, and that since Rivera had completed the ballot, he had “voted for himself,” and the court deducted the vote from Rivera’s total.

Apparently Lupe Rivera, Jr., who had helped his father collect the mail ballots, had an idea that Berrones’ testimony would be devastating. So after she had been subpoenaed by Lopez for a pre-trial deposition, Rivera, Jr. went to her house and tried to convince her not to show up.

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Thankfully, to her great credit, Ms. Berrones showed up and testified courageously.  Her testimony was critical to the case and provides a window into the tactics used in coercing and taking advantage of ballot by mail voters. There were 29 other votes the court also threw out.  Weslaco got a new election, and Letty Lopez defeated Rivera Sr. in the rematch in November 2015.

Weslaco residents filed a criminal complaint with the Texas Secretary of State based on evidence from the election contest, and the Attorney General’s office filed 16 misdemeanor charges against Lupe Rivera, Sr. and two against Lupe Rivera, Jr.  Senior pled guilty to unlawful assistance of a voter, i.e., “while assisting Maria Berrones…knowingly prepar[ing] the voter’s ballot in a way other than the way the voter directed or without direction from the voter,” and got a year in jail (suspended during community supervision) and $500 fine. The state prosecutor testified in a legislative hearing in Austin in September that the Weslaco case illustrated an example of how elections are tained by manipulation of voters through false pretenses. Apparently the prosecutors dropped charges against Junior on account of Senior’s guilty plea.

So, naturally, Lupe Rivera, Jr., who desperately tried to convince an elderly woman to disobey a subpoena, is now running to take back the seat that his father lost after Lopez proved in court that the Rivera campaign had harvested 30 illegal votes.

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One lesson from this is that rooting out these practices and restoring integrity to elections in South Texas–famous for Lyndon Johnson’s “ballot box 13” that miraculously put him over the top in 1948’s Senate elections–will require a sustained effort. I hope the voters of Weslaco turn out in droves in November and send a message in this election.

Weslaco Commission candidate Greg Kerr’s campaign signs illegally confiscated at City Hall

Historically, Weslaco city candidates have been allowed to place their signs near the City Hall visitors center before early voting. There was no formal procedure, candidates simply showed up and claimed their spots, and those who arrived earliest got the prime locations. This year, Greg Kerr, who is running against Johnny Cuellar, beat Cuellar to the punch and got a prime spot.  Suddenly, city officials showed up and literally tore down his materials and took them to a city storage location for Kerr to pick up later.  All of a sudden, they claimed the City would institute a new procedure whereby spots would be chosen by a drawing. In other words, Kerr beat Cuellar to the punch, and the drawing would at least give Cuellar the chance to get the spot back.

This all smacks of viewpoint discrimination by the City–enforcing the law selectively to favor one side over another–which is a First Amendment violation.  I sent the following letter to the City on behalf of Mr. Kerr today.

More federal criminal complaints filed alleging Hidalgo County cocaine-for-votes scheme; when will statewide media pay attention?

On the heels of complaints filed earlier this year related to vote-buying with beer and cigarettes in the 2012 Donna ISD school board elections, the FBI churns out two more complaints against Rio Grande Valley “politiqueras,” this time alleging two different women bought votes for a Hidalgo County Commissioner candidate in 2012 with cocaine.

It is amazing to me that statewide media in Texas pay little to no attention to the very real–and pervasive–corruption and voter fraud in South Texas.  Earlier this year, Najvar Law Firm successfully represented Leticia Lopez, a candidate for Weslaco City Commission last November, in an election contest, proving with “clear and convincing evidence” that her opponent’s victory was the result of nonresident voting and failure to follow disclosure requirements related to mail-in ballots.  The court will be ordering a new election soon.

Anybody who follows The Monitor stories knows how the absentee voting process is routinely used in South Texas to manipulate and coerce voters.  And, as the Lopez v. Rivera trial proved, illegal voting is actually taking place.  It is far more widespread than folks outside the Valley realize, and these stories deserve much more ink.

#LopezvRivera update: Imporant victory against illegal voting in Weslaco election contest

Last Thursday, June 12, the district court announced in open court that Letty Lopez had met her burden and proved by clear and convincing evidence that there were more illegal votes cast in last November’s Weslaco Commission District 5 race than the margin of victory. The judge announced that a new election must be held “as soon as possible,” although no date has been set yet.  Below are two news stories covering the ruling.  Stay tuned for details, as the judgment should be signed soon and we will find out what happens next.  I will also lay out the basis for the court’s ruling in more detail after the judgment is signed.  This is an important victory against illegal campaign tactics commonly used by some candidates in the Valley.  (Disclosure: Najvar Law Firm, the sponsor of this blog, represents the successful contestant, Letty Lopez.)

Judge orders new election in Weslaco District 5” (The Monitor)

KRGV video report

Open letter to Valley View ISD employees: fight back against voter intimidation

Najvar Law Firm sent this open letter to the Valley View ISD Board of Trustees (Pharr, TX) Friday.  With municipal elections for the City of Hidalgo approaching May 10, the letter points out the criminal and civil provisions protecting public employees from attempts by their employers to coerce votes, and requests that the school distribute the letter to all its employees.

See this recent video report by KRGV discussing the type of voter intimidation that occurs in parts of the Rio Grande Valley.

Hidalgo County story: “Man reports voter intimidation”

I have learned in my short time in the Valley so far that the type of voter intimidation described in this KRGV story (video), including forcing public employees to submit to help from an “assistant” who is a partisan for the slate supported by the voter’s employer, is rampant.  State media largely ignores this problem, which I do not understand.