For­mer sen­a­tor pleads guilty in deal to serve con­cur­rent time

Houston Chronicle - - BUSINESS - By Guillermo Con­tr­eras and Pa­trick Dan­ner STAFF WRIT­ERS

Af­ter al­most a year and a half of protest­ing his in­no­cence in two crim­i­nal cases — in­clud­ing one that ended in a con­vic­tion that cost him his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and his liveli­hood as a lawyer — for­mer state Sen. Car­los Uresti has thrown in the towel.

In an un­ex­pected devel­op­ment, Uresti pleaded guilty to a bribery con­spir­acy charge in a brief hear­ing Fri­day in San An­to­nio fed­eral court.

In the pro­ceed­ing be­fore U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Henry Bem­po­rad that was ar­ranged at the last minute, the long­time Demo­crat pleaded guilty to di­rect­ing bribes through then-Reeves County Judge Jimmy Galindo, who en­tered his own guilty plea last year.

Uresti’s plea deal was sealed, but pros­e­cu­tors said they will rec­om­mend that he serve what­ever sen­tence he gets in the bribery case con­cur­rently with the 12 years in pri­son he’s al­ready re­ceived in an un­re­lated fraud case. That case stems from his in­volve­ment in a now-de­funct oil field ser­vices com­pany called FourWinds Lo­gis­tics. The bribery charge car­ries a max­i­mum of five years in pri­son.

As part his plea, Uresti agreed to drop the ap­peal of his con­vic-

tion and sen­tence in the FourWinds case.

Uresti re­mains free on bond un­til his sen­tenc­ing Jan. 14 be­fore Se­nior U.S. Dis­trict Judge David A. Ezra.

While the guilty plea was a sur­prise, it made strate­gic sense be­cause there wasn’t a lot of up­side for him to go to trial again. Even if he won, he’d still be look­ing at a long pri­son sen­tence for the FourWinds con­vic­tion. By ac­cept­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity, Uresti may be hop­ing that Ezra will not stack the two pri­son terms.

Uresti’s life has been up­ended since his con­vic­tion in Fe­bru­ary: He sur­ren­dered his law li­cense, he re­signed from the Se­nate and and his wife filed for di­vorce. He also has to sell his Helotes es­tate and his law of­fice build­ing to pay down some of the $6.3 mil­lion in resti­tu­tion he owes vic­tims of the FourWinds fraud.

San An­to­nio lawyer Mikal Watts, Uresti’s crim­i­nal de­fense lawyer in the Reeves County case, praised his long­time friend in a text.

“Car­los Uresti is a good man,” Watts said. “He put his fam­ily first in de­cid­ing to put this all be­hind him.”

Watts added, “He has con­trib­uted much to this com­mu­nity as a state sen­a­tor. He will con­tribute much when he re­turns to our com­mu­nity as well.”

The guilty plea came a day af­ter Ezra held a sealed hear­ing to dis­cuss, among other things, a mo­tion by Uresti’s co-de­fen­dant and Lub­bock busi­ness­man Ver­non C. Farthing III to move the trial.

The judge de­nied the mo­tion, ac­cord­ing to Farthing’s lawyer, Cyn­thia Orr.

As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Joseph Black­well de­nied there was any “se­crecy” as­so­ci­ated with Fri­day’s plea hear­ing.

“It was just fast-mov­ing,” Black­well said.

Black­well said there is no agree­ment on sen­tence, only that “we agreed to make a rec­om­men­da­tion that the terms run con­cur­rent.”

Uresti had been set to stand trial Oct. 22 in the bribery case. The case against Farthing is still set for that date. Black­well de­clined to say whether Uresti will tes­tify against Farthing at the trial.

The FourWinds in­ves­ti­ga­tion spawned the Reeves County case.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors ob­tained an in­dict­ment in May 2017 against Uresti and Farthing, charg­ing them with con­spir­acy to com­mit bribery and con­spir­acy to com­mit money laun­der­ing in the Reeves County case. As part of his plea deal, Uresti only pleaded guilty to the bribery charge.

In the in­dict­ment, Farthing is iden­ti­fied as the pres­i­dent of a com­pany that pro­vided med­i­cal ser­vices to pri­son in­mates. In 2006, the Fed­eral Bureau of Prisons awarded Reeves County a con­tract to house fed­eral in­mates at the county’s de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity.

The Reeves County Com­mis­sion­ers Court awarded Farthing’s com­pany a con­tract to pro­vide ser­vices at the fa­cil­ity. Galindo, who was county judge at the time, presided over the vote.

Galindo helped Farthing’s com­pany ne­go­ti­ate, price and se­cure the con­tract from Reeves County, the in­dict­ment charges. In ex­change, the in­dict­ment adds, Farthing agreed to hire Uresti as a “con­sul­tant” and pay him $10,000 a month.

“Uresti acted as a con­duit for the pay­ments from Farthing’s com­pany and Farthing to Galindo, the doc­u­ment adds. Uresti kept half the money and the other half he sent to Galindo over a 10-year pe­riod end­ing in Septem­ber 2016. Pros­e­cu­tors say the pay­ments to Galindo were for his sup­port to award the con­tract to Farthing’s com­pany.

The in­dict­ment says Uresti used his con­sult­ing com­pany Turn­ing Point Strate­gies and his law firm’s trust and op­er­at­ing accounts to pay Galindo and his com­pa­nies and “to hide and cover-up this con­spir­acy.” Galindo is sched­uled to be sen­tenced Jan. 7.

Jerry Lara / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

For­mer state Sen. Car­los Uresti leaves court ear­lier this year dur­ing a crim­i­nal fraud trial in which he was found guilty.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.