White-Collar Crime

Trial begins for ex-DA accused in cash-for-court-favors case; convicted ex-judge is first witness

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A convicted former judge, Abel Limas, was the first witness Monday as a trial began for a former Texas district attorney accused in a nine-count federal indictment of running the prosecutor’s office as a criminal racketeering enterprise.

Limas testified that he once considered himself a father figure, mentor and friend to former Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos. But part of that friendship involved the judge taking money from Villalobos and others, Limas told the jury in the Brownsville case, as KGBT recounts.

And, as another KGBT article details, the government contends that Villalobos also was on the take, abusing his office as part of a racketeering operation. “The enterprise was the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office,” lead prosecutor Michael Wynne said.

However, the connection between Villalobos and Limas—who has been convicted but hasn’t yet been sentenced, and has admitted repeatedly that he accepted cash in exchange for providing favorable treatment to his cronies—may not be clear-cut, an earlier Valley Morning Star article suggests.

Reporting on pretrial hearings last week, the newspaper said the attorney representing Villalobos, Joel M. Androphy, is predicting a “bloodbath” when he gets on the stand at trial with the “disgraced” attorneys with whom “the U.S. government bargained for false testimony.”

The government has said in pretrial filings that it expects to rely on taped phone conversations, surveillance photos and bank account records, among other evidence, the Brownsville Herald reports.

“The case involves bribery, kickbacks, and taking money for official decisions,” Wynne told the jury Monday, calling Villalobos “a district attorney on retainer.”

But Androphy described his client as “a caring person” and good family man who has done much for his community as a public servant, hopes to do more and has been unfairly singled out by the feds even as another expected witness against him, Oscar de la Fuente Jr., got special treatment and continues to practice law.

Bank records and his client’s modest lifestyle also demonstrate that Villalobos was not involved in a personal enrichment scheme, Androphy continued, asking the jury, in a combination of English and Spanish, “Where is the mordida without the plata?”—or, as the Herald puts it, “Where is the bribe without the silver?”

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Federal Judge Won’t Dismiss RICO Conspiracy Case Against South Texas DA, But Delays Trial Until 2013”

ABAJournal.com: “As trial looms for ex-DA accused in RICO enterprise case, feds make new accusations”

Valley Morning Star: “More claims surface in Lucio case”

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