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Texas Judge and District Attorney Allegedly Bribed to Let Killer Escape

In a case that is beyond the pale of the usual high level of corruption in south Texas, a state district judge, the District Attorney of Cameron County and an attorney who was formerly a state representative are all accused of accepting bribes to allow a man who had been convicted of murder escape.

After Amit Livingston fatally shot his former lover, Hermilia Hernandez, 31, Cameron County District Attorney Amando Villalobos told the victim's mother that he was "the state" and "the law" and he would "represent and defend" her daughter. Initially, Hermila Garcia took comfort from those words. Now she feels mocked by them.

Villalobos did secure a conviction and 23-year sentence against Livingston. But, according to federal prosecutors, he conspired with district judge Abel Limas and former state representative Eduardo "Eddie" Lucio, who was representing the victim's children in a civil case, to allow Livingston to walk away without seeing a day of prison time.

According to the federal indictment against Villalobos, Limas, Lucio and three other people, the goal of the conspiracy was to grab the $500,000 cash bond put up by Livingston. To achieve this, Villalobos and Lucio convinced Limas to convict and sentence Livingston on the same day and allow him 60 days to get his affairs in order before reporting to prison. This freed up the $500,000 cash bond money and allowed Lucio to settle the lawsuit and collect $200,000 in attorney fees.

Houston attorney Greg Gladden, who represented Livingston in both the criminal and civil cases, was shocked when Limas agreed to turn him loose for 60 days after having sentenced him to decades in prison just on his word that he would turn himself in and serve his sentence.

"We're in chambers and the judge said, 'That's fine, we'll do the plea and we'll reset it for sentencing,"' according to Gladden. "Villalobos says, 'Well, no judge, we don't care if you want to let him turn himself in later, but the family is here, the press is here, we want to get it all done now. We want you to sentence him now, and if you want to let him voluntarily surrender, we don't care about that.'"

"I walked out of the courthouse wondering, you know that means the sheriff is going to have to release the bond money once the civil case is resolved and I just wondered how much of that money Villalobos is getting," said Gladden.

According to the federal indictment, the answer to that question was $80,000. The indictment alleges that Lucio gave Villalobos a $80,000 cut out of his $200,000 and they tossed about $10,000 Limas's way.

That was in 2007, and Livingston has yet to turn himself in to serve his sentence.

"I felt humiliated, mocked," said Garcia. "Why did they mock us? Why? (Villalobos) is a cynic."

Garcia toes her concerns to the McAllen office of the FBI in 2007, but she had no proof of wrongdoing and nothing came of the investigation. After she heard that Limas had pleaded guilty to racketeering in 2011, Garcia returned to the FBI office where agents had been expecting her. The federal investigation involved about 40,000 intercepted calls revealing a network of corruption among judges and lawyers where friendships and bribes were used to subvert justice. This led to indictment after indictment against prosecutors, judges, lawyers and investigators for the prosecutor's office.

"It's been building ever since the first charges came out," said University of Texas-Brownsville professor emeritus of history Anthony Knopp. "I think people are even more horrified with each new accusation and revelation. It seems to be so extensive within the legal community."

Many people are merely having their own beliefs about the justice system in south Texas confirmed.

"Down here, I think the perception has always been that the lawyers are crooked, the judges are crooked and they're all kind of watching each other's back, you know, greasing the skids for each other," said Moises Salas, Jr., president of the Cameron County Bar Association. "And this comes out and I think for the general public, I hear people saying, 'Well, that just confirms what we always believed.'"


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