Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, wife indicted on charges of bribes tied to Azerbaijan

“Both my wife and I are innocent of these allegations,” Cuellar said.

Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar and his wife were indicted Friday on charges of conspiracy and accepting nearly $600,000 in bribes from foreign entities, the Justice Department announced.

Prosecutors allege Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, began accepting the roughly $600,000 in bribes beginning as early as December of 2014 from an oil and gas company owned by Azerbaijan’s government as well as a bank headquartered in Mexico City.

While Cuellar’s wife allegedly propped up sham front companies on the promise of providing consulting services to the two companies in order to launder the payments, she “performed little to no legitimate work under the contracts” all while Rep. Cuellar was promising to use his office for the benefit of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy as well as influencing “high-ranking” officials in the executive branch to benefit the Mexico City bank, according to the indictment.

According to the indictment, Cuellar influenced a series of legislative measures regarding Azerbaijan’s conflict with neighboring Armenia, inserted language favored by Azerbaijan into legislation and committee reports governing certain security and economic aid programs and consulted with representatives of Azerbaijan regarding their efforts to lobby to the U.S. government.

Cuellar once served as a co-chair of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus, and repeatedly met with Azerbaijan officials, including the ambassador of Azerbaijan, Elin Suleymanov in that role.

In this Nov. 17, 2022, file photo, Rep. Henry Cuellar is seen outside a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, FILE

As for the Mexico City bank, Cuellar is alleged to have accepted bribes in exchange for influencing federal regulation of the financial industry to benefit the bank and its affiliates, according to the indictment.

Also, the indictment said Cuellar allegedly “advised and pressured” executive branch officials regarding anti-money laundering enforcement practices that threatened the bank’s business interests, supported legislation that would have blocked federal regulation of the payday lending industry and supported revisions to money-laundering statutes favored by the Mexican corporate conglomerate to which the bank was a member.

The Justice Department said Cuellar and his wife made their initial appearance Friday before a magistrate judge in Houston.

Cuellar his wife are each charged with the following offenses and if convicted, face maximum penalties as indicated: two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery of a federal official and to have a public official act as an agent of a foreign principal (five years in prison on each count); two counts of bribery of a federal official (15 years in prison on each count); two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud (20 years in prison on each count); two counts of violating the ban on public officials acting as agents of a foreign principal (two years in prison on each count); one count of conspiracy to commit concealment money laundering (20 years in prison); and five counts of money laundering (20 years in prison on each count).

Earlier Friday, Cuellar claimed innocence.

“I want to be clear that both my wife and I are innocent of these allegations,” Cuellar said in a statement. “Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas.”

Rep. Cuellar will take a leave as ranking member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee while “this matter is ongoing,” said House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries’ spokesperson Christie Stephenson.

Rep. Cuellar is entitled to his day in court and “the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process,” Stephenson added.

Cuellar, who represents Texas’ 28th Congressional District along the U.S.-Mexico border, has been in Congress since 2005.

ABC News’ Lauren Peller and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.

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