Two people close to indicted congressman Henry Cuellar strike plea deals in bribery case

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Two former political associates of Representative Henry Cuellar have pleaded guilty to conspiring to help the Texas Democrat launder more than $200,000 in bribes and agreed to assist federal prosecutors in their criminal investigation.

Colin Strother, Mr Cuellar’s former chief of staff and campaign manager, and Florencia Rendon, a business consultant who was close to Mr Cuellar, struck plea deals in March to ensure their cooperation in a Department of Justice (DoJ) investigation into Cuellar and his wife, court documents unsealed this week revealed.

Mr Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, have been charged with accepting nearly $600,000 in bribes from an Azerbaijan-controlled energy company and a bank in Mexico, in exchange for advancing the interests of the country and the bank in the US.

Mr Strother and Mr Rendon were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering from Mexico in connection to the alleged scheme. Prosecutors allege that the two came up with the idea for the alleged scheme in 2015 after learning that the bank was struggling.

Both men agreed to plead guilty to the charge. Mr Strother, 50, faces up to five years in prison, while Mr Rendon, 73, faces up to 20 years.

Investigators said Mr Rendon and Mr Cuellar were at a conference in Mexico City in 2015 when they hatched a plan to draft fake “consulting” contracts with the bank for $15k per month where Mr Rendon would funnel most of its proceeds to Ms Cuellar.

Mr Rendon would send $11,000 per month to Mr Srother, who then transferred monthly payments to the Cuellars of $10,000. Between March 2016 and February 2018, Mr Strother transferred more than $200,000 to the Cuellars, according to the plea agreement.

According to the indictment against the Cuellars, Ms Cuellar “performed little or no legitimate work” in exchange for payment.

Attorneys for Strother and Rendon did not immediately return email and telephone messages seeking comment.

Henry Cuellar is accused of accepting nearly $600,000 in bribes (Getty Images)

In addition to bribery and conspiracy, Mr Cuellar and his wife face charges including wire fraud conspiracy, acting as agents of foreign principals and money laundering.

If convicted, they face up to decades in prison and forfeiture of any property linked to proceeds from the alleged scheme.

The couple surrendered to authorities last week and were briefly taken into custody. They made an initial appearance before a federal judge in Houston and were each released on a $100,000 bond.

“Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas,” Mr Cuellar said last week. “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."

Mr Cuellar maintains that he and his wife are innocent.

With additional reporting for the Associated Press

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