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Two political consultants have admitted to conspiring with U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar to launder over $200,000 in bribes from a Mexican bank, according to newly unsealed court documents. This revelation indicates that the consultants are cooperating with the Justice Department in its ongoing investigation into the powerful South Texas Democrat.

Cuellar, who has been in Congress since 2005, was recently indicted along with his wife, Imelda, on charges of accepting nearly $600,000 in bribes from Azerbaijan and Banco Azteca, a Mexican commercial bank. The indictment, unsealed last week, alleges that Cuellar received money from the bank in exchange for exerting influence to protect the bank’s interests from anti-money laundering regulations. To help launder the payments, Cuellar allegedly enlisted his former campaign manager, Colin Strother, and another consultant, Florencio “Lencho” Rendon.

Rendon and Strother struck plea deals with the Justice Department in March, agreeing to cooperate with the investigation. Each could face up to 20 years in prison and hefty fines for conspiracy to commit money laundering. As part of their plea agreements, they have committed to testify in judicial or administrative proceedings when called upon and to provide all relevant documents to the government.

According to court records, Cuellar had Strother meet with Rendon in February 2016 to work on a project to “test and certify a fuel additive made by a Mexican company,” with Strother receiving $11,000 monthly—of which $10,000 would go to Imelda Cuellar. Over the course of three years, Rendon paid Strother over $261,000, with most of that money passed on to Imelda Cuellar. Strother concluded that the project was a “sham,” understanding that the payments were designed to funnel money to Henry Cuellar without proper disclosure.

Cuellar has denied any wrongdoing, stating that his actions were “consistent with those of many of my colleagues and in the interest of the American people.” He now faces charges of bribery, money laundering, and working on behalf of a foreign government. Due to House Democratic rules, he has been stripped of his position as the top Democrat on the subcommittee overseeing homeland security funding.

Rendon’s plea agreement details how the bribery scheme began, mentioning a series of 2015 meetings involving Banco Azteca executives and U.S. regulatory issues. Rendon then signed a contract with a U.S.-based media and television company with ties to the Mexican conglomerate that owns Banco Azteca. This contract was used to funnel money through fake consulting contracts and shell companies.

The Justice Department’s indictment further alleges that Henry Cuellar influenced U.S. policy in favor of Azerbaijan, a nation embroiled in a border conflict with Armenia, in exchange for bribes. Cuellar’s actions reportedly included efforts to push through language in defense spending legislation that would benefit Azerbaijan and working against legislation supporting Armenian interests. Cuellar has announced he still plans to run for reelection, despite the indictment.

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election forecasting site, has changed its rating for Cuellar’s district from “likely Democratic” to “lean Democratic,” in response to the charges. Cuellar won his 2022 reelection by 13 percentage points, but his district is now more closely watched.

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