Former state Rep. Jim Solis is testifying in federal court in Brownsville today in a pretrial hearing in the government’s case against Austin attorney Marc G. Rosenthal, describing how the judicial and legal system in Cameron County was manipulated at the attorney’s direction.
Calm and composed, Solis testified how cases were steered to courts that Rosenthal considered “friendly,” including the 404th state District Court under then-Judge Abel C. Limas.
Solis said he assisted Rosenthal in steering cases to Limas’ court.
"I called an individual that could do that and the individual came through," Solis testified.
The testimony came at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen as Rosenthal’s defense challenges that a conspiracy occurred as alleged in the indictment that a federal grand jury returned against Rosenthal in August 2011.
The hearing also is being held to determine if recorded statements of co-conspirators can be admitted as evidence in Rosenthal’s trial.
Solis’ testimony also unveiled alleged plans to maintain Limas in office in 2008, after he lost the primary to Judge Elia Cornejo-Lopez, to stir bad publicity against Cornejo-Lopez. “They wanted to have Judge Lopez arrested for something she had done,” Solis testified.
Limas also is expected to testify at today’s hearing.
Gilbert Benavides of Brownsville is another witness that Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Wynne called to the stand today in the government’s effort to prove the existence of a conspiracy.
Benavides testified that his first cousin falsely posed as a witness in a case involving a collision with a train to benefit the attorney.
Benavides, who worked for Rosenthal from 2004 through early 2008, testified that Rosenthal had needed a witness and that Rosenthal had talked about this with Benavides’, uncle, the late Precinct 1 Cameron County Commissioner Pete Benavides Sr. and that Benavides Sr.’s stepson Jesse Mata subsequently had posed as the witness.
Gilbert Benavides also testified that at Rosenthal’s direction he paid Mata $2,500 for this, and that Benavides Sr. received a wire-transfer in connection with the case.
He further testified that he delivered $20,000 to George Gavito, the former Brownsville Navigation District’s police chief in connection with Gavito’s assistance to Rosenthal in cases.
Rosenthal is charged in a 13-count federal indictment that the federal grand jury returned against him in August 2011, accusing him of conspiring to bribe Limas and bribing witnesses, filing fraudulent personal injury cases in state and federal court, directing others to pay for the referral of cases, making arrangements to manipulate the random case assignment system at the Cameron County District Clerk’s Office, and paying witnesses to provide false testimony and statements.
The indictment also charges that Rosenthal’s law firm Rosenthal & Watson was a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) enterprise.
Limas has been convicted of racketeering and Solis of aiding and abetting extortion. Both await sentencing.
Limas now has been called to the stand. He testified that Rosenthal had wanted him to pay $10,000 to Brownsville City Manager Charlie Cabler and to the city's civil service officer Carlos Ayala to ensure that then-police officer Jimmy Manrrique passed an exam that he wanted to take for a lieutenant position.
Limas said that being lieutenant would have facilitated the rise to police chief.
Limas testified that Rosenthal told him that Manrrique would be going to Limas' office.
"Jimmy showed up and told me exactly what he wanted also," Limas testified, adding, however, that he doesn't know if Manrrique knew about the $10,000.
Limas testified that he did not offer the $10,000 to anyone, however. "It was wrong," Limas testified when asked why not.