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A White-Collar Indictment Shatters a Congressman’s Blue-Collar Image

Over the years, Representative Henry Cuellar often harked back to the small house in Laredo, Texas. It was there that his parents, one-time migrant workers who spoke no English, raised him and his seven siblings to value hard work and beware the dangers of debt.

The references in speeches, campaign advertisements and interviews were intended to forge affinity with the largely Hispanic residents of his hometown. They demonstrated that “I am one of you,” as his campaign website put it in 2004, when he first won election to Congress as a Democrat representing Laredo, one of the poorest cities in the country.

By 2013, those hardscrabble beginnings seemed a distant memory.

Mr. Cuellar had become the hub of a bustling small enterprise that blurred the lines between his political operation, his businesses and his family, affording him trappings of affluence even as he sometimes strained to make ends meet.

He had recently purchased a penthouse apartment in Washington’s bustling Navy Yard neighborhood near Nationals Park and a pair of properties in Laredo, including a 6,000-square-foot house with a pool and cabana in a gated community on a street called Estate Drive. He took on an increasing amount of debt, and his net worth declined.

A new source of cash soon revealed itself, federal prosecutors are now saying.

Starting in 2014, Mr. Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, accepted at least $598,000 over seven years from a Mexican bank and an oil company owned by the Azerbaijani government, according to prosecutors.

The Cuellars were charged earlier this month with accepting bribes, money laundering and violating foreign lobbying laws by trying to influence the government on behalf of their foreign paymasters. They pleaded not guilty and were released after each paid a bond of $100,000.

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