Criminal Justice

Lawyer known as 'DWI Dude' gets prison time for swindling Colombian drug traffickers

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A Texas criminal defense lawyer who marketed himself as the “DWI Dude” has been sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for a scheme to swindle Colombian drug trafficking clients.

Lawyer Jamie Balagia, 65, was sentenced to 188 months in prison Monday, according to a May 3 Department of Justice press release. He was also ordered to forfeit his law office building in Manor, Texas, and to pay a $1.5 million money judgment.

The New York Times and the Dallas Morning News have coverage.

Prosecutors had alleged that Balagia told the trafficking clients that, if they paid inflated “attorney fees,” he could use the money to bribe U.S. officials to reduce or toss their charges. In reality, there were no bribes paid to compromised government officials.

Payments were made into Balagia’s personal bank accounts and in cash, including a payment delivered to Balagia in a shopping bag in a mall parking lot, prosecutors said.

Balagia allegedly participated in the scheme with a private investigator and a Colombian attorney. Balagia had testified at trial that he was manipulated by the two men.

In October 2019, Balagia was found guilty of obstruction of justice; conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruct justice and commit wire fraud; and violation of the Kingpin Act, which bars the acceptance of money from people who have been designated as significant drug traffickers.

Balagia is a former Austin, Texas, police officer who ran for Texas attorney general in 2014 on a Libertarian platform of legalizing marijuana.

During sentencing, Balagia’s defense lawyer, Gaylon Riddels, said his client was “homeless, destitute and broken,” according to the Dallas Morning News.

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