Former senator pleads guilty in deal to serve concurrent time
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.
Former state Sen. Carlos Uresti leaves court earlier this year during a criminal fraud trial in which he was found guilty.