‘DWI Dude’ lawyer jailed on charges of client scam
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.