Guilty plea in South Texas vote-buying operation

A former south Texas politiquera, Diana Balderas Castañeda, earlier this month pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of vote-buying in conjunction with campaign activities supporting the election of four Donna ISD school board candidates.

In the criminal complaint, FBI Special Agent Brandon Cook defines a politiquera as “a person who works for a candidate to encourage people to vote, to bring voters to the polls, to ensure that voters select the appropriate candidate and to pay voters for their votes.”

Castañeda admitted during a 2013 interview with FBI agents that she was in fact paid by a candidate to provide food, beer or cigarettes as well as cash ($10 to $20) in exchange for specific candidate votes during the 2012 primary and general elections. Castañeda additionally said she would sometimes take voters to buy drugs after they voted.

Castañeda was one of three politiqueras arrested in late 2013. While currently free on bond, Castañeda faces up to five years in federal prison. Sentencing is scheduled for July 25. Another politiquera, Rebecca Gonzalez, is expected to be sentenced in September. She pleaded guilty to the same charge in February.

More fallout ahead?

KGBT in Harlingen reports how authorities have not released the names of candidates and/or campaign managers involved in the vote-buying operation, but notes incumbents Ernesto Lugo, Alfredo Lugo, Mike Flores and Nick Castillo retained their seats in the 2012 school board election.

Less than two weeks after the politiqueras’ arrest, Donna school board President Alfredo Lugo hanged himself. The FBI as well as Lugo’s fellow board members and family have declined comment on if Lugo was also being investigated

With investigations ongoing, the prospect of more arrests seems likely.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As also a contributor at Raging Elephants Radio and News Radio 1400 KTEM, she writes and speaks on a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the creator and online producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses probate abuse via wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney as well as other taxpayer advocacy issues.

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