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Former Judge Abel Limas Gets 72 Months in Prison for Taking Bribes
“During the course of this investigation, we interviewed over 800 people, including many local attorneys in Cameron County,” Gripka said. “We hope this case shows everyone that the government will not tolerate officials who violate the public trust. Fighting public corruption is a priority for the FBI,” he added, “and it is something we take very seriously.”
   Abel Limas   
Former Judge Abel Limas Gets 72 Months in Prison for Taking Bribes
U.S. Attorney’s Office
August 21, 2013

Southern District of Texas
(713) 567-9000
BROWNSVILLE, TX—Former 404th State District Judge Abel Corral Limas has been ordered to prison following his conviction for racketeering, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Limas pleaded guilty March 31, 2011.

Today, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who accepted the guilty plea, handed Limas a total sentence of 72 months in federal prison. At the hearing, additional testimony was presented concerning the impact suffered by victims with one victim testifying there was “outrage and shock at the magnitude of the corruption.” Limas admitted to the court that his conduct was “not a mistake, it was intentional,” and he had destroyed the public’s view of the local judiciary. Limas was further ordered to pay restitution of approximately $6,777,270.50 and will serve a term of three years of supervised release following completion of the prison sentence. An additional amount of $257,300 was ordered forfeited as proceeds derived from the offense.

“It critical to our court system that justice is administered fairly and without any undue influence,” said Magidson. “This case and the sentencing today serves as a reminder that this behavior will not be tolerated in the Southern District of Texas. We will continue our efforts against public corruption and will pursue prosecution in these matters when identified to us our partner law enforcement agencies.”

Limas, 57, a life-long resident of Brownsville, practiced criminal and family law in south Texas during the late ‘80s and the ‘90s before assuming the judgeship of the 404th District in 2000. Limas served as judge for eight years, retiring in December 2008. Thereafter, he was associated with the law firm of Rosenthal & Watson, an Austin firm, as “of counsel.”

At the time of his guilty plea, Limas admitted his part in use of the office of judge of the 404th District Court as a criminal enterprise to enrich himself and others through extortion. Limas accepted money and other consideration from attorneys in civil cases pending in his court in return for favorable pre-trial rulings in certain cases, including a case involving a helicopter crash at South Padre Island in February 2008. Limas specifically admitted to receiving $8,000 in May 2008, a payment described as eight “golf balls,” for favorable rulings.

Evidence also showed Limas participated in a series of meetings with attorneys Marc Garrett Rosenthal and Jim Solis in the summer of 2008 during which they planned and negotiated the terms of Limas’ employment as an “of counsel” attorney with the firm. During those meetings, Rosenthal promised Limas an advance of at least $100,000, as well as a percentage of attorneys’ fees earned in the helicopter crash case in return for favorable rulings on the case. Limas’ employment arrangements were confirmed in calls on August 28, 2008, between Limas and his wife and son. Limas was expecting to be “cut in” on 10 percent of the settlement/judgment of the helicopter crash case pending in his court and the $100,000 advance. On December 31, 2008, Limas received a check for $50,000 payable from the Rosenthal & Watson Law Firm. On January 2, 2009, Limas received a check for $50,000 from Solis.

In October 2009, the helicopter case settled for approximately $14 million and Limas received approximately $85,000 from the Rosenthal & Watson Law Firm approximately two months later.

To date, a total of eight defendants have entered guilty pleas to related violations in the FBI’s four-year public corruption investigation, including Jose Santiago “Jim” Solis, former Texas State Representative; local attorney Jose “Joe” Valle; former Cameron County District Attorney’s Office investigator Jaime Munivez; Jose Manuel “Meme” Longoria; Armando Pena; and his wife, Karina. Three others—attorneys Ray Roman Marchan, Marc Garrett Rosenthal, and former Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos were found guilty of public corruption-related charges involving their association with Limas after separate jury trials. Marchan was previously sentenced to 42 months’ imprisonment, which was vacated upon his death. Solis was sentenced August 2, 2013, to 47 months, while Rosenthal and Villalobos will be sentenced Septemer 23 and October 15, 2013, respectively.

Limas was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The investigation has been conducted by the FBI with the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Brownsville Police Department. Southern District of Texas Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) Michael Wynne and Oscar Ponce are prosecuting this case. The cases against Villalobos and Rosenthal are being prosecuted under the direction of the Western District of Texas by AUSAs Wynne and Greg Surovic.

This content has been reproduced from its original source.

September 19, 2013
Public Corruption: Courtroom for Sale
Judge Gets Jail Time in Racketeering Case


In a case that exposed widespread corruption in a South Texas county’s judicial system—reaching all the way to the district attorney’s office—a former state judge was recently sentenced to six years in prison for taking bribes and kickbacks in return for favorable rulings from his bench.

Abel Limas, 59, a lifelong resident of Brownsville, Texas, served as a police officer and practiced law before becoming a state judge in Cameron County in 2001. He served eight years on the bench, during which time he turned his courtroom into a criminal enterprise to line his own pockets.

“The depth of the corruption was shocking,” said Mark Gripka, a special agent in our San Antonio Division who was part of the team that investigated the case. “What was more shocking was how cheaply Judge Limas sold his courtroom—$300 here, $500 there—in return for a favorable ruling.”

There was plenty of big money involved as well. Limas received more than $250,000 in bribes and kickbacks while he was on the bench. He took money from attorneys with civil cases pending in his court in return for favorable pre-trial rulings, most notably in a case involving a Texas helicopter crash that was later settled for $14 million. Referring to an $8,000 payment Limas received in that case, our investigators listened on the telephone as he described the cash to an accomplice as eight golf balls. “Their code language didn’t fool anybody,” Gripka said.

Evidence also showed that Limas made a deal with the attorneys in the helicopter crash case to become an “of counsel” attorney with the firm. He was promised an advance of $100,000 and 10 percent of the settlement—all while the case was still pending in his court.

Over a 14-month period beginning in November 2007, investigators used court-authorized wiretaps to listen to the judge’s phone calls. “That’s when we really learned the scope of what he was doing,” Gripka explained. The judge’s nearly $100,000 annual salary was not enough to support his lifestyle, which included regular gambling trips to Las Vegas.

In 2010, when Limas was faced with the overwhelming evidence against him, he began to cooperate in a wider public corruption investigation—and our agents learned that the Cameron County district attorney at the time, Armando Villalobos, was also corrupt. The investigation showed, among other criminal activities, that Villalobos accepted $80,000 in cash in exchange for taking actions that allowed a convicted murderer to be released for 60 days without bond prior to reporting to prison. The murderer failed to report to prison and remains a fugitive.

Limas pled guilty to racketeering in 2011. By that time, he had helped authorities uncover wide-ranging corruption in the Cameron County judicial system. To date, 10 other defendants have been convicted by a jury or pled guilty as part of the FBI’s six-year investigation, including a former Texas state representative, three attorneys, a former investigator for the district attorney’s office, and Villalobos, who is scheduled to be sentenced next month on racketeering, extortion, and bribery charges.

“During the course of this investigation, we interviewed over 800 people, including many local attorneys in Cameron County,” Gripka said. “We hope this case shows everyone that the government will not tolerate officials who violate the public trust. Fighting public corruption is a priority for the FBI,” he added, “and it is something we take very seriously.”

Texas Atty Convicted In Judicial Bribery Scheme
By Sindhu Sundar

Law360, New York (February 28, 2013, 9:06 PM EST) -- Texas attorney Marc Garrett Rosenthal was convicted on charges related to a bribery scheme involving state district judge Abel Corral Limas, prosecutors said Thursday.
Rosenthal, 51, was convicted after a roughly month-long trial of conspiracy to bribe Limas as well as witnesses in state and federal court cases, according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman. Rosenthal was convicted on one count of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization statute as well as other counts including extortion, mail fraud and witness tampering, prosecutors said.

Rosenthal faces 20 years in prison on each count and is scheduled to be sentenced June 3. Prosecutors are also trying to get him to forfeit nearly $6 million.

“Jurors [also] convicted Rosenthal of conspiring to ... file fraudulent personal injury cases in both state and federal courts and deprive the citizens of Cameron County, Texas, of the right to honest services of an elected official,” prosecutors said in their statement.

Attorneys for Rosenthal could not immediately be reached for comment late Thursday.

The scheme allegedly spanned from November 2005 to December 2009, when Rosenthal conspired with others including former 404th Judicial District Judge Limas and Rosenthals former colleague Jose Solis, who was also convicted in the scheme.

Limas pled guilty in 2011 to federal racketeering charges for accepting some $237,300 in bribes while serving as an elected judge from 2000 until 2008.

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in September denied Rosenthal’s motions to dismiss the suit, saying many of them were “meritless” and contradicted by admissions and arguments made in other pleadings.

Rosenthal had argued in one of the motions that the claims against him were barred because Limas and other attorneys involved in the alleged scheme had pled guilty to their roles.

He argued that by accepting those pleas, the court had already legally determined the nature, character and guilt of the same acts alleged against him, and argued he could not be prosecuted for the same crimes.

Judge Hanen disagreed, saying just because the someone who receives a bribe pleads guilty, it doesn’t mean prosecutors need not pursue the person who gave out the bribe, according to his order.

Rosenthal is represented by Ernesto Gamez Jr. and John Patrick Smith.

The case is U.S. v. Marc Garrett Rosenthal, case No. 1:11-cr-00743, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

--Additional reporting by Jess Davis and Jeremy Heallen. Editing by Chris Yates.

Jailed Judge Can't Shield Assets From $6M Restitution: Feds
By Jess Krochtengel

Law360, Dallas (April 9, 2015, 5:14 PM EDT) -- Federal prosecutors on Wednesday said a former Texas state judge convicted of racketeering can’t hide his assets from a $6.2 million restitution order by claiming they are community property.
Former Cameron County District Judge Abel Corral Limas, who is serving a six-year sentence for taking bribes from attorneys and others in exchange for favorable rulings in civil and criminal cases, in a March 30 filing sought exemptions from a writ of garnishment issued by a federal judge.

Limas had argued three bond accounts totaling $3,000 should be exempt from garnishment because they are income earned by him and because the money is considered community property.

Prosecutors said under Texas law, community property subject to a spouse’s sole or joint management is subject to the liabilities incurred by the spouse during or before the marriage.

“Thus, the government may take a nondebtor spouse’s (Limas’ wife) interest in marital assets that were jointly managed or solely managed by the debtor spouse,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a response to Limas’ motion. “The accounts the United States has sought to garnish are solely controlled by Limas and are therefore entirely subject to pay victim restitution.”

Prosecutors also said Limas claimed exemptions for property the government hasn’t moved to seize, including apparel, school books, fuel, furniture and personal effects. They said the bond accounts don’t fall into protected categories, meaning Limas’ exemption claims are invalid and should be denied.

Limas, who is representing himself, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. He is incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp in Pensacola, Florida.

Limas, who allegedly accepted $237,300 in payoffs to influence cases while on the bench in Brownsville, was sentenced in August 2013 and began serving his sentence that December. U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen rejected prosecutors’ request for leniency based on testimony Limas gave against others charged in the far-reaching South Texas bribery scheme.

Limas admitted in 2011 that he accepted bribes during his eight-year tenure on the bench, which ended in 2008 when he lost his re-election bid. Since pleading guilty to a single racketeering count, the disgraced judge has been cooperating with prosecutors to secure convictions against several of his co-conspirators.

Prosecutors said Limas regularly accepted bribes from a group of local attorneys, including Marc Garrett Rosenthal, Ray Roman Marchan, former state Rep. Jose “Jim” Solis and former Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos, all of whom have been convicted on federal corruption charges. Marchan's sentence was vacated after he committed suicide the day he was scheduled to report to prison.

The government is represented by Julia Bowen Stern of the U.S. attorney’s office.

Limas represents himself.

The case is USA v. Limas, case number 1:11-cr-00296, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

--Editing by Chris Yates

Judge Limas Associate Pleads Guilty

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