South Texas DA charged in widening extortion, fraud scheme


May 7, 2012 Source : http://www.statesman.com

BROWNSVILLE — A South Texas prosecutor running for U.S. Congress was charged Monday with taking more than $100,000 in bribes to settle and minimize criminal cases, including one deal that allegedly netted $80,000 while a convicted murderer fled a prison sentence.

Armando Villalobos, the district attorney in Cameron County, was charged with racketeering, extortion and honest services fraud, prosecutors said. His former law partner, Eduardo Lucio, faces similar charges.

The two men were the latest to be roped into in a multiyear federal investigation of corruption in the county’s criminal justice system, which has ensnared a judge, a bailiff, lawyers and former state Rep. Jim Solis. Former state District Judge Abel Limas and other local attorneys have pleaded guilty to charges.

After being released on bail, Villalobos stood outside the courthouse Monday in front of supporters and denied the charges.

“Have faith in the system, and have faith in me,” Villalobos said.

In its most explosive allegation, the indictment claims Villalobos agreed to a deal that gave a man who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder 60 days of freedom before reporting to prison. Amit Livingston was convicted in 2007 of killing 32-year-old substitute teacher Hermila Hernandez, whose body was found on South Padre Island two years earlier.

Livingston was sentenced to 23 years in prison but given time to get his “affairs in order” by presiding judge Limas, the Brownsville Herald reported. Instead, Livingston fled and remains at large.

Meanwhile, Villalobos allegedly had Lucio file a wrongful death lawsuit against Livingston on behalf of Hernandez’s family. The $500,000 bond Livingston posted was used to settle the lawsuit, the indictment said. Hernandez’s family collected $300,000, while Lucio took $200,000 and paid Villalobos $80,000, the indictment said.

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