On August 21, 2013, Abel Corral Limas, 60, former judge of the 404th Judicial District Court of Cameron County, Texas, was sentenced to 72 months in federal prison on racketeering charges he pleaded guilty to on March 31, 2011. Limas was also ordered to pay $6,777,270.50 in restitution, forfeit another $257,300 as proceeds from a criminal enterprise and serve three years of supervised release after he is released.
In investigating Limas, the FBI placed wiretaps on his phones. They intercepted around 40,000 calls over 14 months starting in November 2007, and discovered a widespread web of corruption among the legal community in Brownsville.
Limas practiced family and criminal law in Brownsville in the late 1980s and 1990s before he became a district judge in 2000. He served for eight years and retired in 2008, becoming "of counsel" to the Austin law firm of Rosenthal & Watson.
According to the FBI, the "of counsel" status and payment to him of $185,000 by the law firm were two of many bribes Limas received during his tenure as district judge. Attorney Marc Garrett Rosenthal offered the bribes to Limas in return for favorable pretrial rulings in a lawsuit over a helicopter that crashed on South Padre Island in February 2008. After the rulings, the case was settled for around $14 million.
When faced with overwhelming evidence of his guilt in 2010, Limas begin to cooperate in expanding the investigation. This lead the FBI to discover that Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos had allegedly accepted a $80,000 bribe from attorney Eduardo "Eddie" Lucio to allow a convicted murderer who was a millionaire 60 days in which to turn himself in—effectively allowing him to escape. The corruption investigation has also resulted in guilty pleas by former state representative Jose Santiago "Jim" Solis, attorney Jose "Joe" Valle, former Cameron County District Attorney's Office investigator Jamie Munivez, Jose Manuel "Meme" Longoria, Armando Pena and Karina Pena. Villalobos, Rosenthal and attorney Ray Roman Marchan were convicted of corruption-related charges in separate jury trials.
"The depth of the corruption was shocking," said investigation team member FBI special agent Mark Gripka. "What was more shocking was how cheaply Judge Limas sold his courtroom—$300 here, $500 there—in return for a favorable ruling."
Although Limas made close to $100,000 as a district judge that apparently couldn't support his lavish lifestyle, which included frequent gambling trips to Las Vegas. The total amount of bribes the FBI knows he received exceeds $250,000.
"Down here, I think the perception has always been that the lawyers are crooked, the judges are crooked and they're kind of watching each other's back, you know greasing the skids for each other," said Moises Salas, 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.'"
Sources: www.fbi.gov, correctionsone.com
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