POLITICS

Texas AG Greg Abbott alleges cocaine-for-votes scandal in Lone Star State

HAMBURG, GERMANY - MARCH 07:  Packages containing confiscated cocaine are seen at a press conference on March 4, 2012 in Hamburg, Germany. Agents seized 260 kg of cocaine aboard the 'Tasman Mermaid', a ship that originated from Ecuador, after searching the vessel upon its arrival in Hamburg port in November, 2011.  (Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images)

HAMBURG, GERMANY - MARCH 07: Packages containing confiscated cocaine are seen at a press conference on March 4, 2012 in Hamburg, Germany. Agents seized 260 kg of cocaine aboard the 'Tasman Mermaid', a ship that originated from Ecuador, after searching the vessel upon its arrival in Hamburg port in November, 2011. (Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images)  (2012 Getty Images)

Republican gubernatorial nominee and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott made a bold statement during a recent debate with Democratic contender Wendy Davis: that cocaine may have even been traded for votes.

"I almost hesitate to bring this up, but you know that one of the challenges that’s going on as we speak is the fact that the FBI is involved in an investigation about people in the Rio Grande Valley who are using cocaine to buy votes,” Abbott said, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “We cannot accept or tolerate this kind of lack of integrity in the election process."

It turns out that Abbott may be on to something.

The FBI said in court records filed in late August that an unnamed Hidalgo County, Texas commissioner’s campaign manager used cocaine to buy votes in the 2012 primary election. These allegations surfaced after the FBI arrested two paid political campaign supporters - Veronica Saldivar and Belinda Solis – as part of an 18-month long investigation into drugs and cash being used to buy votes.

If convicted, both face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

FBI investigators allege that a campaign manager, who worked for a Hidalgo County commissioner, bought $50 worth of cocaine and divided it up between the two politiqueras, who then handed the drugs out in baggies to people voting for the commissioner in the 2012 primary election. Saldivar added that she was also responsible for doling out money, beer and cigarettes to almost 30 voters, according to the criminal complaint.

Only two candidates for a Hidalgo County commissioner slot ran during the primary election - Precinct 1 Commissioner A.C. Cuellar Jr. and Joel Quintanilla – and both have denied any involvement in the drugs-for-votes scandal.

“I don’t know these ladies,” Quintanilla told the McAllen Monitor. “During our campaign meetings, we mentioned to our campaign workers that we wouldn’t even consider paying people for votes."

Speaking to the Austin American-Statesman, Michelle Lee, an FBI spokeswoman in San Antonio, said the case was still under investigation. She added that the Justice Department also recently issued a press release about the arrest in Illinois of a campaign manager, Francisco "Frankie" Garcia, of Donna, Texas, in connection to vote buying.

“According to the indictment, during the November 2012 general election, Garcia worked as a campaign manager for four candidates to the Donna School Board,” the press release stated.  “During that time, he allegedly bought votes and worked with other campaign workers to pay voters and to offer to pay voters in this election to vote for particular candidates.  The indictment alleges that Garcia paid voters by giving the voters either cocaine or cash in exchange for their votes.”

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