Sixth and final person sentenced in vote-buying case

McALLEN — Using the help of a walking aid to keep her balance, Guadalupe Escamilla listened as U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Hinojosa sentenced her to six months of home confinement and three years supervised release for her role in a vote-buying scheme yesterday afternoon.

Prior to her sentencing, Escamilla, who sat alone and away from family members, nervously rubbed her knees with her hands as she awaited her name to be called.

Escamilla pleaded with Hinojosa to take into consideration her failing health and that of her husband, who she is solely responsible for.

“With all respect I present myself in front of the court knowing that I accept my faults and ask for mercy,” Escamilla said in Spanish.

The 74-year-old Weslaco native and former campaign worker stood in U.S. District Court in McAllen with her family in attendance as Hinojosa admonished her for her role in a scheme that involved paying voters for votes.

“One of the biggest challenges of a democracy is the uninformed voter — on Election Day we are all equal,” Hinojosa said. “What you were doing — you were demeaning that by telling (people) who to vote for.”

Escamilla received a shorter and less stringent sentence compared to the five others involved in the scheme, primarily because of the woman’s current health condition, Hinojosa said. The judge noted that, like the others before her, Escamilla did serve some time in confinement for her crimes.

Escamilla, who pleaded guilty in June 2014 to vote-buying in a 2012 school board election, finally heard what her punishment would be for her role in the case. She is the sixth and final person to be sentenced in connection with the 2012 vote-buying case, according to court records.

Hinojosa said Escamilla was the “least” culpable of the six involved in this scheme because, unlike some of the other defendants, she did not use cocaine or any other illicit drug to buy votes and did not have as much as a parking ticket on her record.

During an FBI investigation on Feb. 25, 2013, agents interviewed two witnesses. One told FBI officials she was paid $10 to vote for the candidate Escamilla was supporting in the 2012 general election, according to the criminal complaint.

The second witness, who is related to the first witness, said she was given a pack of cigarettes to vote for the candidate Escamilla was supporting, according to court documents.

FBI officials confirmed through voter rolls that both the witnesses voted in the 2012 General Election.

On March 21, 2013, FBI officials interviewed Escamilla, who voluntarily met with agents at the bureau’s McAllen offices. She said she worked as a politiquera in the 2012 General Election for two candidates who were running for positions on the Donna school board, according to the complaint.

Escamilla said the two candidates she was working for gave her $100 to hand out to voters and specifically instructed her to pay any voter who requested payment in exchange for his or her vote.

Escamilla told agents she handed food, cigarettes and cash in the amounts between $3 and $10 in exchange for a vote for the candidates for whom she was working, the complaint states.

The FBI arrested Escamilla and two others, Diana Castañeda and Rebecca Gonzalez, in December 2013.