An attorney accused of paying kickbacks to a South Texas judge was convicted Monday in the first trial stemming from a four-year federal investigation into judicial corruption in Brownsville.
Port Isabel lawyer Ray Marchan was found guilty of all seven counts
he faced. He was the first of 12 people swept up in the investigation of
former state District Judge Abel Limas to face trial.
Limas pleaded guilty to racketeering last year and awaits sentencing.
Prosecutors accused Marchan of paying Limas more than $11,000 in 2008
in exchange for appointments and favorable decisions. Marchan’s defense
argued he was just loaning money to a friend.
But Limas spent parts of four days on the stand as the government’s
key witness describing how he accepted some of the more than $250,000 in
kickbacks and bribes from several attorneys, including Marchan. It was
clear from the start that the trial would be as much about Limas — and
his credibility as a witness — as it was about the attorney.
Limas testified that the money Marchan gave him was to head off an
opposing lawyer’s attempt to sanction him for missing a court date and
to land appointments as a guardian ad litem. Guardians ad litem
represent the interests of people, often children, in cases and Limas
described the work during Marchan’s trial as “quick, easy money.”
Federal investigators launched their investigation in Brownsville in
late 2007 after receiving a tip. The FBI had wiretaps on Limas’ home and
cell phones for most of 2008. Soon, the case expanded and half of the
dozen people indicted were lawyers, including the sitting Cameron County
district attorney and a former state legislator.
During Marchan’s trial, prosecutors played only a small fraction of
the 40,000 intercepted phone calls between Limas and some of those who
conspired with him. Even those that didn’t document illegal activity
left an unsavory impression of justice behind closed doors and the
callous treatment of the legal system for personal gain.
Throughout Marchan’s two-week trial, defense attorney Noe Garza tried
to distinguish between unethical acts, of which there were many, and
Limas conceded he was more than $400,000 in debt in 2008 and let it
be known to his attorney friends that he could use some money. He said
he accepted loans from some, but denied Marchan’s payments were anything
but kickbacks and bribes for his judicial discretion.
Marchan was a respected civil litigator in Brownsville. He had
attended Rice University and graduated from Stanford’s law school. In
2008, he was going through a divorce in Texas, and Limas said he had heard
Marchan was headed for his third bankruptcy.