Former Judge Abel Limas Gets 72 Months in Prison for Taking Bribes
|U.S. Attorney’s Office August 21, 2013|
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.