Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Justice for Sale: Cameron judge took bags of cash to influence court outcomes

Via AP (Aug. 21), here's the denouement of an  extraordinarily ugly story of South Texas corruption:
A former judge who turned his South Texas courtroom into a money-making operation was sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen sentenced former state district Judge Abel Limas, 59, on one count of racketeering in Brownsville, on the border with Mexico. He also ordered Limas to pay almost $6.8 million in restitution. ...

Limas drew the FBI's attention in late 2007 as he neared the end of his second term in office. Investigators intercepted some 40,000 phone calls and collected surveillance photos documenting how Limas had converted his courtroom into a criminal enterprise, collecting bribes and kickbacks totaling $257,000.

Limas pleaded guilty in 2011 and became the government's star witness in four related trials that shook Cameron County's justice system. He could have faced up to 20 years in prison but received credit for cooperation.  ...
Racketeering is a charge typically associated with organized crime. But in Limas' case, prosecutors said his courtroom was the criminal enterprise where he generated cash.

Limas took kickbacks from friends, accepting thousands of dollars for favorable rulings. In one case, he accepted $5,000 in cash handed to him in a McDonald's bag by then Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos, just to keep his mouth shut. ...
In March 2010, Limas was summoned to by the FBI. A year later, he pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and agreed to cooperate with authorities.

Limas talked to the FBI more than three-dozen times and became federal prosecutors' star witness at all four trials that followed. He helped take down the sitting district attorney and a former state lawmaker [ed. note: this was Jim Solis], and cast doubt on a large chunk of the Cameron County bar.

Even beyond the dozen people charged in the investigation, Limas implicated many more attorneys in his testimony for practices that were at a minimum unethical.
See coverage from the McAllen Monitor of related civil litigation published recently while Grits was out of town. Here's more background on the former DA's role.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised he was caught. He should have followed the tried and true method of accepting bribes which is to have the cash laundered through political contributions, then retire and enjoy it. That's how every other judge does it...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

He did that, too. People "pledged" large amounts then doled them out a bit at a time as he processed their cases. Problem was, he couldn't use that money to pay his gambling debts.

John David Galt said...

Which police agency gets to benefit from civil forfeiture of the courthouse? This would make as much sense as any other CF case.

Anonymous said...

Grits, this is big news but not covered by anyone (except for the AP & the two write ups by The Monitor and this one dated Aug. 27 2013) and yet no mention of the folks used by the unknown amount of participants.

This is and was a RICO Act investigation waiting to happen but ended up being trumped by a Plea Bargain. Now, this part isn't anything new at all.

Guilty is Guilty and once a criminal is caught red handed and he / she pleas Not Guilty but later on decides to cooperate (in a cut & dried case that didn't need his assistance) one is left wondering why he wasn't forced to reveal the cause numbers of all of the victims.

I for one stopped wondering the very moment that he was Not charged for the crime(s) in which he comitted.

Anonymous said...

JDG has asks us a very good question, in which I am now asking why wasn't his house confiscated in a forfeiture ruling alongside his peunny 6 year conviction?

Something isn't right, despite a conviction.

Don't be surprised to learn that he appeals and wins.

Anonymous said...

If his assigned court room was a three ring circus cash cow, then the entire staff should have been indicted along with him. His wife should have been indicted in this conspiracy to defraud the public and the government.

The staff could have testified in return for 6 years each in Federal prison and he should have rec 20 years in Federal prison. Day for Day when you work for the public.

What a joke.

Anonymous said...

Who gets the 6.8 million in restitution and when is it due?

What's the penalty for not paying up?

If his home, vehicles and rental properties were being paid with criminal enterprise proceeds and it wasn't confiscated - will he simply be allowed to sell them off and use the money to pay towards the 6.8 million? I bet he files bankruptcy and pays zilch.

If yes, then the joke is on the public and we should just let him out and never press charges against public servants ever again.

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Anonymous said...

Hopefully the legislature will give some grave consideration to checking the "power intoxication levels" in Prosecutor Offices and processes next session.
If not it won't be because the people haven't made an outcry.

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