Prosecutors welcomed Richard Molina’s former business partner, Julio Carranza, as a key witness in their case Thursday morning. John Waits, an investigative sergeant with the Texas Attorney General’s Office assigned to investigate the defendant’s case, was one of the witnesses who presented physical evidence to the jury as he explained his investigative process.
Carranza held mixers at the headquarters of his company, Landmark, where Molina would talk to his employees about registering to vote. He explained that the defendant encouraged him to change his home address in Pharr to his brother’s address in Edinburg.
The witness said Molina told him, ‘Don’t worry about it.’
Carranza admitted that he encouraged employees to become deputy voter registrars at the defendant’s request to help him win the election against opponent Richard Garcia.
“He’s my business partner,” Carranza said. “Of course, we wanted to win at all costs.”
Attorney Michael Garza asked the entrepreneur if he did it for his own benefit.
“Did you have a business interest for him to win?” asked the lawyer.
“Things would speed up, yes,” Carranza replied.
Defense attorney Carlos Garcia asked Carranza if he would commit a crime if Molina asked him to.
“If Richard [Molina] asked you to commit a crime…which is illegal, unlawful and a crime. Would you do it?” Garcia asked.
If it were after his child’s baptism, Carranza would do it for his former business partner.
“At what level?” Carranza replied. “Yes, I trusted him that much.”
After Carranza said no to the act of robbery if Molina asked, the defense attorney asked what crime he would commit.
“Voter fraud,” Carranza told the jury.
Molina used the Palacios family and Mary Alice Palacios, the woman who filed the complaint that started the case, as an example for Carranza. “Everybody does and that he wouldn’t ‘get caught’.”
Garcia reminded Carranza of the threats of a felony conviction and what it would do to him as an entrepreneur.
“You come here today after…the time you made the decision…and then you come and find out that he beats the mayor. Then all this attention comes out and Mary Alice Palacios files a complaint against you, right?
Carranza replied, “Correct.”
“And with their hope [the state and district attorney] tearing up that piece of paper and saying ‘Okay, you’re free to go, we want what we want, don’t we?
Carranza affirmed with a ‘correct’ one more time before being dismissed.
Waits explained to the jury how he obtained the records and information of 40 people connected to the 2017 voting scheme.
Vehicle registration, driver’s license database and appraisal district documents were some of the pending data obtained for the investigation. If information from an ID matched voter registration, Waits would filter them out.
Garcia brought up the subject of witness Victoria Cochran, a Mission resident who testified earlier that day, and questioned Waits in his interview with her at her residence.
“She described it to you and told you up until that interview … that she was fine,” Garcia said. “Halfway through the interview, you…said: ‘Richard Molina lied to you.
Waits said he didn’t remember saying those words, but also said it wouldn’t surprise him if he did.
The witness interviewed 30 of the 40 people involved.
“Based on what you saw, it looked like they didn’t live where they listed their residence on a voter registration card. Do you remember saying that?” Garcia commented during the examination.
“No sir,” Waits said. “What I remember saying is that there was a probability that they did. It was not completed by me before the interview.”
Waits went through the complaints at the start of the investigation, which included compact discs with pdf documents.
The compact was said to have documented records and had not been tampered with, but signs indicated that the items inside were not official.
“They came from Mary Alice Palacios?” Garcia asked.
Waits said that although the complainant was Palacios, it was not given to him directly and it was not given by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
Garcia asked Waits why he didn’t make an effort to find out Palacio’s motive for filing the complaint.
“We go with what’s on the complaint,” Waits testified.
Waits did not document that Palacios lost her contract with the city of Edinburg after the defendant’s mayoral victory, or that her brother was a municipal judge and her nephew a district attorney.
“My goal was to objectively look at the complaint and then gather evidence that would refute or support the claim,” Waits said.
At the end of his testimony, he showed the court the key that belonged to the apartment of the defendant’s brother, Ray Molina.
“What is the significance of this key in this investigation?” Garza asked.
“That key represents entry into one of the defendant’s relative’s apartment residences,” Waits said.
“Was it used as a trick? What is used to fool law enforcement?”
Waits answered yes to both before being questioned and then fired.
Friday morning’s testimony was interrupted after Judge Carlos Valdez called for a recess for the remainder of the day until 10 a.m. Monday. Molina’s defense attorneys discussed a motion to present the key witness, County Clerk Hinojosa.
Defense attorneys filed a subpoena for County Clerk Laura Hinojosa and access to the criminal record for a sealed indictment of Richard Ramirez, a Border Patrol agent who testified Tuesday morning.
The jury was not present in the courtroom during this deliberation.
“This raises some serious concerns because the state was privy to information that is discoverable,” said defense attorney Jaime Peña.
However, there was a motion to quash the summons by District Clerk’s Office Prosecutor Alex Benavidez, who was present with Hinojosa as she spoke to the judge.
“The cases we argue directly affect the client,” Hinojosa said.
Judge Valdez asked counsel to speak about the case in chambers on the record and denied the motion to dismiss.
Valdez then dismissed the jury and welcomed them to continue hearing testimony on Monday, August 22, 2022, at 10:00 a.m.