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White-Collar Crime

Trial begins for final lawyer charged in judicial bribery scheme; convicted ex-judge is star witness

Posted Aug 7, 2013 10:55 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A convicted former South Texas judge testified Wednesday in federal court against an Austin attorney accused of participating in a "cash for court favors" scheme.

Eduardo "Eddie" Lucio, who is charged with extortion and racketeering, is the 12th defendant in the case to have his day in court. His case is being tried in Corpus Christi, rather than Brownsville, because he requested a change of venue. In opening statements Tuesday, the prosecution portrayed Lucio as a “figure man and straw man” whose "strings" were "pulled" by his former law partner, former Cameron County District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos. The defense said evidence was lacking, according to the Brownsville Herald and KGBT.

On Wednesday morning, former 404th District Court Judge Abel Limas, who has admittedly taken bribes, began testifying against Lucio, reports KGBT.

Lucio is not related to two state lawmakers from Brownsville with similar names.

Villalobos was convicted in a related case earlier this year. Accused of operating the DA's office as a criminal racketeering enterprise, Villalobos argued that he had acted within his prosecutorial discretion. However, with Limas as a star witness against him, the former DA was convicted in May of racketeering conspiracy and five counts of extortion, the Valley Morning Star reported. He was acquitted on two extortion counts.

Lucio is accused of funneling $80,000 to Villalobos, for referring a murder victim's family to him to file a civil lawsuit. The convicted murderer, Amit Livingston, jumped bond after being released by Limas on a 60-day pass, and the money for the DA came from a $500,000 bond forfeiture, according to the Brownsville Herald and the station.

Lucio reportedly got $200,000 of the $500,000 as a legal fee, and the other $300,000 went to the victim's family. An earlier ABAJournal.com post and an Associated Press article provide further details.

It is not clear whether Villalobos is expected to testify against Lucio, but an attorney witness is expected to do so, according to the Valley Morning Star.

Limas and Villalobos still await sentencing and could get as much as 20 years, reports the Associated Press.

Jose Santiago "Jim" Solis, a now-disbarred personal injury lawyer and former state representative, was sentenced last week by a federal judge in Brownsville to 47 months in prison. The Valley Morning Star has a story. He had faced a maximum of 20 years.

Eight other defendants took pleas or were convicted at trial. They include:

Attorney Ray Marchan, who apparently committed suicide after being convicted of paying bribes to Limas. He had just been sentenced to three and a half years. Subsequently, his conviction was vacated.

Marc G. Rosenthal, an Austin attorney whose lawyers say he could face a life sentence. Accused of paying Limas for favorable rulings and bribing witnesses, among other alleged misconduct such as filing trumped-up personal injury cases, he was convicted last year of multiple counts including racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud and extortion, as an FBI press release details. His counsel has asked for more time to prepare for his sentencing, reports the Valley Morning Star.

Attorney Jose Martin "Joe" Valle, who got 13 months for aiding and abetting extortion.

Middleman Jose "Meme" Longoria, who was sentenced last year to 10 years in federal prison. A Courthouse News article provides further details.

Jaime Munivez, who served as a bailiff in Limas' courtroom, as well as an investigator for the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office. He pleaded guilty in 2011 to interference with commerce under color of official right, the Associated Press reported at the time. He subsequently got a year and a day, as Fox Rio 2 News reported.

Probationer Armando Pena, who admittedly paid Limas $1,800 so he could report by mail, instead of in person, to his probation officer. He got 27 months, as a FBI press release details.

His wife, Karina Pena, who also pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting honest services wire fraud. She got probation and community service, as another FBI press release details.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: "Top Texas Court Vacates Libel Appeal and Appellate Opinion Due to $8K Bribe Paid to Trial Judge"

Valley Morning Star: "Judge sues ex-Judge Abel Limas, ex-state Rep. Jim Solis, others"

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