‘DWI Dude’ lawyer jailed on charges of client scam

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Ryan Au­tullo rautullo@states­man.com

An off­beat Austin-area de­fense at­tor­ney who has built a prac­tice rep­re­sent­ing clients ac­cused of drunken driv­ing and mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion spent 11 days in an East Texas jail af­ter fed­eral au­thor­i­ties charged him with scam­ming $1.2 mil­lion from Colom­bian clients.

Jamie Bala­gia, who op­er­ates law firms in Manor and in San An­to­nio, was re­leased on bond from the Fan­nin County De­ten­tion Cen­ter at 10:47 a.m. Mon­day, jail records show. Bala­gia, 56, agreed to stop prac­tic­ing law un­til his case is re­solved, ac­cord­ing to court records that pro­vide the con­di­tions of his re­lease.

The at­tor­ney who mar­kets him­self as the “DWI Dude” and the “420 Dude” was ar­rested by the FBI on March 9 in McK­in­ney near Dal­las and charged with con­spir­acy to com­mit money laun­der­ing and ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. He was re­leased on an un­se­cured $100,000 bond by U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Chris­tine Nowak of the East­ern Dis­trict in Sher­man.

Cit­ing un­named sources, the San An­to­nio Ex­pressNews re­ported last week that Bala­gia is ac­cused of join­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tor and an­other de­fen­dant in a scheme to get $2 mil­lion from clients by promis­ing to use the money to bribe judges and pros­e­cu­tors. No one was bribed, sources told the news­pa­per.

Bala­gia al­legedly split the money with his co-de­fen­dants and pock­eted $600,000 for him­self.

Court records list four women with whom Bala­gia is to avoid all con­tact be­cause they are ei­ther al­leged vic­tims or wit­nesses.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tor ac­cused of tak­ing part in the scheme, Charles N. Mor­gan, has been in fed­eral cus­tody since Novem­ber on the same charges, and was in­dicted in De­cem­ber. The third co-de­fen­dant is not named in court doc­u­ments.

If con­victed, each de­fen­dant faces up to 20 years in prison.

A woman who an­swered a phone at Bala­gia’s of­fice in Manor de­clined com­ment. His at­tor­ney, Kirk Lecht­en­berger of Dal­las, did not re­spond to mes­sages.

At a court hear­ing last Thurs­day in Sher­man, Bala­gia called three wit­nesses to speak on his be­half, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tor Heather Rat­tan of the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice. His wife tes­ti­fied that she has Stage 4 can­cer. Dal­las-area at­tor­ney De­an­dra Grant told the court she will be in­her­it­ing cases Bala­gia is work­ing on.

Rat­tan ar­gued Bala­gia is a flight risk and a dan­ger to the com­mu­nity, adding that Bala­gia has a his­tory of not fol­low­ing rules in­clud­ing drug use when he was an Austin po­lice of­fi­cer and a State Bar ac­tion for which he was on pro­ba­tion at the time of the charged ac­tiv­ity. He was ac­cused of im­prop­erly keep­ing $50,000 from two clients and was sen­tenced in 2014 to nine months of pro­ba­tion by the State Bar’s dis­ci­plinary arm.

He will be su­per­vised on elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing and per­mit­ted to leave his home only for work, church and court ap­pear­ances.

He is sched­uled to ap­pear in U.S. East­ern Dis­trict Court in Plano on May 15.

Bala­gia ran for at­tor­ney gen­eral in 2014, cam­paign­ing on mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion and im­proved po­lice ac­count­abil­ity. The Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date re­ceived 2.5 per­cent of the vote, fin­ish­ing third to Repub­li­can Ken Pax­ton and Demo­crat Sam Hous­ton.

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