Weslaco motel bribery civil case inches forward

dfwnewsa | March 18, 2023 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News

EDINBURG — While the criminal case against two men accused of bribing Weslaco public officials in exchange for economic incentives drew closer to a conclusion this week, those men remain embroiled in a civil lawsuit over the same conspiracy.

The Economic Development Corporation of Weslaco claims Ricardo “Rick” Quintanilla and Sunil Wadhwani conspired together to defraud the corporation out of a $300,000 economic incentive to build a Motel 6 along the expressway.

Quintanilla, a cross-border businessman, illegally leveraged his relationships with Weslaco elected officials in order to push through approval of the incentive on behalf of Wadhwani, who owns hotels from Mercedes to McAllen to San Antonio, according to the EDC.

“The theory of our case is that (Wadhwani) represented to us, to the EDC when he got the finances, that he would not do that. That is an express provision of the contract,” Jesus “Chuy” Ramirez, the attorney representing the Weslaco EDC said after a Feb. 28 hearing in the case.

“And he continued to misrepresent that throughout the period that he was receiving funds,” Ramirez said.

The suit also names Wadhwani’s company, Nolana Self Storage LLC, and his business partner, Harjinder Singh, as defendants, as well as former District 4 Weslaco City Commissioner Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla, and one-time Starr County power broker, Leonel Lopez Jr.

The EDC filed the lawsuit in January 2020, about three months after federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against Wadhwani and Quintanilla.

The indictment charged both men with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and wire fraud.

The government alleged Quintanilla served as an intermediary between Wadhwani and city officials, and Tafolla whose political career Quintanilla oversaw as campaign manager.

It’s an allegation the EDC parallels in its lawsuit.

In May 2020, just a few weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic had caused a near total shutdown of both commerce and the courts, Wadhwani changed his plea to guilty.

The McAllen hotelier admitted to paying at least $4,000 in bribes to Tafolla, who at the time served as a Weslaco city commissioner and vice president of the EDC board of directors.

Wadhwani awaits sentencing.

In the time since his guilty plea, Quintanilla has been convicted and sentenced in another bribery scheme involving Weslaco officials.

A jury convicted Quintanilla and former Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner Arturo “A.C.” Cuellar of a combined 70 counts of bribery, wire fraud and money laundering last October. The convictions are tied to a similar bribery scheme surrounding the $38.5 million rehabilitation of Weslaco’s water treatment facilities.

And as with the Motel 6 allegations, Quintanilla was accused of serving as a facilitator between members of the conspiracy and Weslaco officials.

In late January, the judge who presided over the water plant trial sentenced Quintanilla to nearly 17 years in federal prison.

The sentencing proceedings against Tafolla and other cooperating witnesses have remained postponed pending the outcome of the trials.

On Monday, a judge dismissed the remaining charges against Quintanilla just hours after prosecutors indicated they were no longer interested in pursuing the case.

The post Weslaco motel bribery civil case inches forward appeared first on MyRGV.com.

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