Texas Representative Henry Cuellar
Texas Representative Henry Cuellar Reuters

Two political consultants pleaded guilty to charges that they conspired with Texas Representative Henry Cuéllar to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a Mexican bank, The Texas Tribune reported on Thursday. They now are cooperating with the Department of Justice in the case against the powerful Democrat.

Cuéllar was formally accused last week of taking roughly $600,000 in bribes both from the government of Azerbaijan and Mexico's Banco Azteca.

In regards to the latter, the indictment says, Cuéllar took money from the bank in exchange for influencing the Department of Treasury to work around an anti money laundering policy that went against the bank's interests.

The two consultants, Colin Strother and Florencio Rendon, allegedly helped him with the payments. They face up to 20 years in prison and six-figure fines for their actions, but hope to get leniency in exchange for their cooperation.

According to the outlet, the two consultants engaged in a scheme where one would pay the other for a fake job, the other kicking back most of the sum. Overall, Rendon paid $261,000 over three years, $238,000 of which ended up going to Imelda Cuéllar, Henry's wife.

The money originally came from the Mexican bank owned by Ricardo Salinas Pliego, one of the country's richest men. Neither him nor the bank have been charged with any wrongdoing.

A bank spokesperson said on Sunday that Salinas Pliego's conglomerate, like other companies, lobbies "to safeguard the causes in which we believe and will always defend."

The admissions from the consultants put Cuéllar in hotter water. The lawmaker has maintained his innocence and refused to resign from his post, but his chief of staff, Jake Hochberg, has already left the lawmaker's team. Several others are considering a similar move, the outlet added, according to Punchbowl News.

The lawmaker did step down his only committee assignment on the House Appropriations one while the case proceeds. "Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas," Cuéllar said in a statement shortly after his indictment became public.

"Before I took 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. Furthermore, we requested a meeting with the Washington D.C. prosecutors to explain the facts and they refused to discuss the case with us or hear our side," the document adds.

Regarding actions related to the Azerbaijani government, Cuéllar allegedly agreed to influence legislation favorable to the former Soviet republic and deliver a friendly speech on the House floor. He was at one point the co-chair of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus and also traveled to the country in 2013. Two years later announced a research agreement between a Texas university and an organization called the Assembly of Friends of Azerbaijan.

Both Cuéllar and his wife Imelda were released on $100,000 bail each. Their trial is set to start this summer, but it could be delayed as a result of pre-trial legal disputes. The lawmaker is no stranger to controversy. He's seen among Democrats as a hardliner on immigration policy, considering he's been vocal at the time of supporting strong deportation measures. He also was on the national spotlight some months ago as he was robbed at gunpoint in Washington, D.C.

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