Jury acquits Villalobos’ former law partner in corruption case - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Jury acquits Villalobos’ former law partner in corruption case

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Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 10:15 pm

CORPUS CHRISTI — A jury on Tuesday found attorney Eduardo “Eddie” Lucio not guilty of paying kickbacks and bribes to a former state prosecutor and district judge in exchange for prosecutorial and judicial favors.

“We’re very, very happy,” Lucio’s defense attorney Luis M. Avila said, adding, “I was worried.”

On the government side, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Wynne, who with Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory J. Surovic prosecuted the case, said: “We accept the jury’s verdict.”

Lucio had been charged with five counts of racketeering, conspiracy and three counts of aiding extortion in his association with ex-Cameron County District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos and former 404th state District Judge Abel C. Limas.

Lucio stood sobbing, with his head bowed, as presiding U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen read the jury’s not guilty verdicts. He declined comment.

Hanen directed Wynne to provide evidence that was presented during the trial from the testimony of two government witnesses about Lucio for investigation by the State Bar of Texas.

Lucio - who is not related to either state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. or state Rep. Eddie Lucio III - is the last defendant charged in connection with the federal investigation into widespread corruption within the judiciary and legal system.

Lucio also is the only defendant who has been found not guilty. Eleven others have either pleaded guilty or have been convicted by juries.

They include Limas, Villalobos, former state Rep. Jim Solis, and several attorneys.

Solis recently was sentenced to 47 months in prison. Limas’ sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 21. Villalobos awaits sentencing, but has filed a motion seeking acquittal or a new trial. That motion is pending.

The jury’s unanimous acquittal on all five counts came after two and one-half hours of deliberations.

Avila and co-counsel Rigoberto Flores Jr. defended their friend Lucio. The three had seemed incredulous after Hanen read the verdicts, quietly talking and laughing sporadically when Hanen left the courtroom to thank the jury for its service.

“I never thought we got it,” Avila later explained, noting that he takes no case for granted.

Wynne shook hands with Avila and Flores.

Avila and Flores in their closing statements stressed reasonable doubt.

“The government just didn’t put a solid case,” Avila said.

On Monday, Hanen had hinted that the government’s case could be in trouble. While he denied a defense motion for a directed verdict, he said he could reconsider the motion post verdict.

Avila said he was not surprised that Hanen directed Wynne to provide information to the State Bar of Texas, noting that Hanen had given the same directive regarding other attorneys.

Lucio, Villalobos and others had been charged with using the Office of the District Attorney from Oct. 2, 2006, through May 3, 2012, to generate income for themselves and others through bribery and extortion, favoritism, improper influence, personal self-enrichment, self-dealing, concealment, and conflict of interest.

The five-count federal indictment against Lucio charged him with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act by giving an $80,000 kickback to Villalobos in two $40,000 payments from the $200,000 he received in attorney fees in the civil lawsuit against convicted murderer Amit Livingston; giving $1,000 to Limas for his silence in the Livingston case; and paying a $5,000 bribe to Villalobos from $901,000 seized from a truck of which $42,000 went to Lucio.

In his instructions to the jury, Hanen said: “It is your duty to apply the law as I explain it to you, regardless of the consequences.”

A Brownsville jury in May found Villalobos guilty on five of nine counts for which Lucio was also charged. Villalobos was found guilty on two other counts, while he was acquitted on two other charges.

The charges against Lucio stemmed in part from the investigation into Limas, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering, and became a key federal witness in the prosecution of public corruption cases.

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