Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar and wife were indicted on federal bribery charges

Washington – Representative of the Democratic Party. Henry Guller and his wife have been indicted on more than a dozen federal charges alleging they took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from an Azerbaijan government-owned oil company and a Mexican bank, the Justice Department said Friday.

A 54-page indictment filed in federal district court in Houston was unsealed Friday and charges Gullar with 14 counts, including conspiracy, bribery and money laundering. He is also accused of acting as a foreign agent to benefit the government of Azerbaijan.

Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Rios Cuellar, made their first appearance before a federal magistrate judge in Houston, where they both pleaded not guilty and were released on unsecured bond. A jury trial is tentatively scheduled to begin on July 8.

Speaking outside court on Friday, the congressman maintained that he and his wife were innocent and predicted he would win re-election in the fall.

Federal prosecutors allege that Cuellar and Imelda Cuellar took at least $598,000 in bribes from the Azerbaijan Oil and Gas Company and Bank, headquartered in Mexico City. They alleged bribery in the form of bogus consultancy contracts to shell companies owned by Imelda Cuellar through front companies and middlemen. The congressman’s wife, according to the indictment, “did little or no proper work” under the consulting contracts.

In exchange for bribes, prosecutors said, he agreed to use “the power and prestige of his office” to advance the interests of an Azerbaijani and foreign bank not identified in the indictment.

NBC News was there First to report An indictment is expected Friday. The congressman indicated in a statement before the charges were made public that he and his wife face criminal charges and that they are innocent.

Representative Henry Cuellar leaves a meeting with House Democrats at the U.S. Capitol on November 17, 2022.

True Anchorer / Getty Images

The congressman said in a statement that he sought legal advice from the House Ethics Committee before taking any action — it was unclear from the statement what actions he was referring to. The panel gave a written opinion and a second opinion from a national law firm, he said. Cuellar and his wife also requested a meeting with lawyers in Washington, DC, to “explain the facts,” he said, but they declined to discuss the case with them.

A spokesman for Democratic Chairman Hakeem Jeffries said the congressman will be on leave as the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee while the case is pending.

“Henry Cuellar has dedicated his career to admirable public service and is a valued member of the House Democratic Caucus. Like any American, Congressman Cuellar is entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process,” Christy Stephenson, a Jefferies spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Allegations in the charge sheet

The congressman’s ties to Azerbaijan began in early 2013, the indictment says, when he and his wife traveled to Istanbul and Baku, Azerbaijan, on a trip sponsored by an organization led by a Houston resident. The unidentified resident leads two non-profit organizations dedicated to advancing Azerbaijan’s interests, prosecutors said.

The groups receive funding from Azerbaijan’s state-owned energy company.

After the trip, according to prosecutors, officials in the Azerbaijani government “discussed recruitment. [Cuellar] To promote Azerbaijan’s interests in the United States Congress.”

A year later, in February 2014, the Justice Department said the Cuellars negotiated a “corruption agreement” with a government-linked oil company that would pay a shell company owned by Imelda Cuellar “monthly for strategic consulting and advisory services . . .”

By May of that year, after the shell companies were created, investigators alleged that Gullard had taken overt steps to benefit a foreign government, telling his contacts that he “put language into that year’s National Security Authorization Act to create a strategic framework for the United States.” State security force assistance and cooperation in the European and Eurasian regions, including Azerbaijan.

The relationship continued for several years, investigators said. According to court documents, in 2017, an ambassador from Azerbaijan sent information to Congress about demining operations in the region, which Azerbaijan opposed.

“I see it. We’re working on it,” Cuellar replied. “Thanks Boss,” the diplomat wrote back, according to court documents.

Prosecutors accused congressional staffers of pressuring the State Department to renew the US passport of the Azerbaijani ambassador’s daughter, and Gullar recommended amendments to legislation related to Azerbaijan.

But it is not only Azerbaijan. Investigators said Cuellar and his wife set up shell companies and contracts with a Mexican retail bank in an attempt to launder additional funds.

According to the prosecutors, the exchange of currency required better mutual relations with US financial institutions. In 2015, Cuellar reportedly agreed to put some language into House bills to support such transactions.

“From May to July 2016, [Cuellar] U.S. Official-3, a high-level executive branch official responsible for the supervision of banks, advised and pressured Foreign Bank-1 to take official actions that benefited Foreign Bank-1,” investigators said in court documents.

The indictment alleges the Cuellars used most of their alleged illegal proceeds to pay federal and state taxes, credit card and car payments. Prosecutors said tens of thousands of dollars were spent at restaurants and shops, and they paid $12,000 for a “custom gown,” $7,000 for a new car and $27,000 for insurance and telecommunications companies.

Search by the FBI

The scheme comes two years after the FBI allegedly involved an Azerbaijani and Mexican bank Held “Court Recognition”. Cuellar’s lawyer seeks congressional home and campaign office in Laredo in January 2022 told CBS News The congressman was not the target of a federal investigation at the time. A source familiar with the investigation said the activity at Guler’s home was part of an investigation involving Azerbaijan and several American businessmen.

While the Congress party office said at the time that he was fully cooperating with the investigation, Khullar denied wrongdoing.

Cuellar was elected to the House in 2005 and represents the 28th Congressional District. His district stretches from San Antonio south to the US-Mexico border. Considered a moderate Democrat, Cuellar faced a tough primary challenge Jessica Cisneros, an immigration attorney, ran from her former coach during the 2022 election cycle, but defeated him in a runoff.

Cuellar, who is Catholic, is the only “pro-life” Democrat left in the House. He was in the news in October 2023 He said the car was hijacked By three gunmen while returning to his home at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC

Andres Triay contributed to this report.

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