White-Collar Crime

DA Running for Congress Is Indicted; Feds Say He Ran His Office as a Criminal RICO Enterprise

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A sitting district attorney in South Texas has been federally indicted, accused of working with his former law partner and others to operate the local justice system as a criminal racketeering enterprise.

Cameron County District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos, who is currently running for election to a seat in the U.S. Congress, is accused with his former law partner, Eduardo “Eddie” Lucio, and others of participating in a criminal scheme to deprive the public of the honest services of their public officials and derive a profit from the operations of the judicial system, according to the Brownsville Herald.

The indictment (PDF) says the DA took more than $100,000 in bribes to minimize and settle criminal cases, the Associated Press reports. Among other claimed misconduct, he is accused of obtaining an $80,000 payoff in exchange for arranging for a convicted murderer to be given 60 days to get his affairs in order before reporting to prison, during which time he fled.

The judge who granted the 60-day delay, state District Judge Abel Limas, has already taken a plea in a federal racketeering case and admitted taking bribes in exchange for favorable treatment of defendants. At last report, he was awaiting sentencing.

Villalobos acknowledged in a press conference earlier Monday that he is under federal investigation in connection with an alleged state-court judicial bribery scheme in which the judge and several lawyers have already been charged, according to another Brownsville Herald article.

He said he will neither step down from his job as DA nor give up his run for Congress. “I have never used this office for financial gain,” Villalobos said.

The DA also urged attendees at the press conference to “have faith in the system and have faith in me. I have served this community for 14 years, and I believe I’ve earned the people’s trust and I’ve earned the legal community’s trust, and I don’t think that’s going to be erased in one day.”

He and Lucio pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon and were each released on $50,000 unsecured bond. Before that, the DA’s counsel filed an emergency motion with the federal court in Brownsville. It sought a plan to allow the DA to turn himself in, and thus prevent his safety from being jeopardized by his potential arrest and incarceration in the same county in which he serves.

The indictment states that “the office of the District and County Attorney of Cameron County, Texas, constituted an enterprise as the term is defined by Title 18, United States Code, Section 1961(4), which was engaged in and the activities of which affected interstate and foreign commerce.” The cited statutory provision is part of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Related coverage re Ray Marchan:

ABAJournal.com: “Stanford Law Grad Is Federally Indicted, Allegedly Paid Texas Judge $11K in Bribes”

Brownsville Herald: “Limas’ attorney calls for sanctions”

Related coverage re Marc Garrett Rosenthal:

ABAJournal.com: “Another Attorney Charged in RICO Case, Accused of Paying Texas Judge for Rulings”

The Monitor: “Rosenthal judge weighs several motions”

Related coverage re Jim Solis:

ABAJournal.com: “Former Texas Lawmaker Agrees to Be Disbarred After Guilty Plea to Aiding Judicial Bribery Scheme”

Related coverage re Jose Martin “Joe” Valle:

ABAJournal.com: “Texas Lawyer Who Was a ‘Lesser Player’ in Judicial Corruption Case Gets 1 Year in Federal Prison”

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