Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and his wife allegedly accepted $600,000 in bribes from an oil company controlled by the Azerbaijan government and a bank headquartered in Mexico, according to a federal indictment unsealed in Texas on Friday.

The 68-year-old congressman and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, are accused of setting up front companies that entered into sham contracts with the bank and the Azerbaijan government, the indictment said. Through their lawyer, they denied wrongdoing.

Texas Cuellar Investigation

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, speaks during a hearing of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations on April 10 in Washington. Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

The 54-page indictment details a bold corruption scheme in which Cuellar – who co-chairs the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus – allegedly promised to wield his power as a U.S. congressman to advocate for his benefactors.

To Azerbaijan, he pledged to influence legislation related to the country’s conflict with neighboring Armenia, insert favorable language into committee reports on economic aid programs and deliver a pro-Azerbaijan speech on the House floor, the indictment says. To the Mexican bank, Cuellar allegedly promised to pressure executive branch officials to back off money laundering enforcement practices that threatened the bank’s business interests and to support legislation that would block regulation of the payday lending industry, which has been accused of exploiting poor Americans.

Both husband and wife face 14 charges that include money laundering, conspiracy to commit bribery of a federal official, wire fraud and more. The indictment also charges them with acting as foreign agents without properly registering with the U.S. government. They were taken into federal custody on Friday morning and, according to their attorney, released after each posted a $100,000 unsecured bond, which means they only have to pay it if they violate the terms of their release.

Cuellar said in a statement that he is innocent and expects to win his reelection bid in November. “I want to be clear that both my wife and I are innocent of these allegations. Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas.”


The Justice Department declined to comment.

Chris Flood, the couple’s Texas-based attorney, called the charges bogus and said the congressman sought advice from lawyers and the House Ethics Committee before entering into the contracts with the Azerbaijan oil company and the Mexican bank.

A spokesman for the House Ethics Committee declined to comment. The committee’s legal advice to members of Congress is generally kept private.

Unlike other congressional committees, Republicans and Democrats have equal representation on the ethics committee, no matter which party controls the House. The committee investigates allegations against lawmakers if they have violated House rules. It also reviews financial disclosure statements, provides ethics trainings to members and can provide advice to members about how to abide by House rules.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the House Minority Leader, said that Cuellar would step down as the ranking Democrat of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security while the legal proceedings are ongoing, but will remain on the committee. “Congressman Cuellar is entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process,” Jeffries said in a statement through his spokesperson.

Cuellar and his wife are the second U.S. lawmaker-spouse duo indicted on bribery charges in the last year. Last September, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and his wife were indicted on bribery charges in what officials said was a corrupt scheme involving gold bars, stacks of cash and using the senator’s powerful position to secretly benefit the Egyptian and Qatari governments.


Menendez’s trial is set to begin later this month.

The Cuellar indictment comes two years after the congressman’s home and office in Laredo, Tex., were raided by FBI agents. Cuellar’s lawyers said earlier that the Justice Department told them the congressman was not the subject of the probe.

Cuellar was seeking reelection at the time of the raid and went on to win a 10th term in Congress that November. He is running again this cycle and could find himself in a close election in his increasingly conservative and swing district along the Texas-Mexico border. Two Republicans will face off in a primary runoff later this month to determine who will challenge him.

According to the indictment, three different shell companies involved in the scheme were created between 2012 and 2021 and owned by Imelda Cuellar and the couple’s children. Imelda Cuellar is a former tax enforcement officer who retired in 2012. As part of the contracts, she was supposed to be doing work for the companies, but prosecutors allege that she did “little or no legitimate work.”

“It was a purpose of the conspiracy for the defendants to use [Cuellar’s] official position as a Member of the United States House of Representatives to benefit and enrich themselves through bribery,” the indictment reads.

The indictment, which alleges that the couple accepted bribes from at least December 2014 through November 2021, includes texts and other communication between Cuellar and people affiliated with the Azerbaijan government and Mexican bank that allegedly show how he tried to carry out his promises on multiple occasions.


On Sept. 1, 2017, for example, an Azerbaijani diplomat allegedly texted Cuellar a screenshot of an appropriations amendment that would allocate $1.5 million to clear land mines in the Nagorno-Karabakh region – an effort that was supported by Armenia, but opposed by Azerbaijan.

“I see it. We work on it,” Cuellar responded, according to the indictment.

“Thank you Boss!” the diplomat said.

Prosecutors say Cuellar also sought input from a Mexican bank executive in 2015 while working on a congressional committee report on the problems involved with de-risking – which is when financial institutions restrict business relations for certain categories of clients to avoid, rather than manage, risk.

“Here are our suggestions, marked in red to facilitate the review process,” the bank executive allegedly wrote to Cuellar, with a copy of the draft report attached.

“Got your input. I have reviewed and it’s good. I am submitting to the committee tomorrow. I will keep you posted,” Cuellar allegedly responded.


Cuellar, a former Texas secretary of state, has served in the House for almost two decades. He proudly wears the moderate Democrat label and has often sought to work with Republicans. Throughout his career in Washington, oil and gas has been the top industry to donate to Cuellar, totaling $1,526,969 according to the nonprofit Open Secrets.

Representing a district on the Texas-Mexico border that’s anchored around his hometown of Laredo, Cuellar has pushed the Democratic caucus over the years to seek centrist and bipartisan solutions to the border crisis, often siding with proposals made by then-president Donald Trump. Many liberals consider him a thorn in Democrats’ side, complicating efforts to advance the border issue in a way most of the caucus wants to pursue.

Cuellar is also the last remaining House Democrat who is antiabortion. His moderate stances have earned him primary challenges in recent years, including two by liberal Jessica Cisneros, who came close to ousting him shortly after the 2022 FBI raid.

Last year, Cuellar made headlines after he was carjacked about a mile from the U.S. Capitol. His car and luggage were stolen.

Sylvia Bruni, the chair of the Democratic Party in Webb County, where Laredo is located, said in a statement that Cuellar’s situation “is certainly distressing, casting a dark cloud over all our sincerest efforts on behalf of our community.”

She wrote in an email that the county party “will remain quiet regarding the allegations, presuming innocence, and trusting the Justice System to work fairly.”


Mariana Alfaro contributed to this report.

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