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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

5th Circuit Upholds Bribery Conviction

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A Texas attorney convicted of bribing a judge in exchange for favorable rulings is not entitled to a new trial, the Fifth Circuit ruled.

Marc Rosenthal, 53, argued his federal convictions for racketeering and fraud -- not to mention, his 20 year sentence -- should be thrown out because prosecutors were not authorized to present evidence obtained through government wiretaps at trial.

On Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit disagreed, concluding that investigators properly sought out court orders that allowed the government to intercept phone calls made to Rosenthal by former State District Judge Abel Limas and former Texas State Representative Jim Solis.

"In any event, even if Rosenthal could demonstrate clear or obvious error, he has not shown his substantial rights were affected, especially given the testimony of Limas and Solis, which paralleled the wiretap evidence Rosenthal seeks to suppress," U.S. Circuit Judge Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale wrote for the three-judge panel.

The New Orleans-based appeals court also rejected Rosenthal's claim that the jury received improper instructions and that prosecutors unfairly referred to Limas' guilty plea during closing arguments.

Evidence presented at Rosenthal's 2013 trial revealed that between November 2005 and December 2009, the attorney participated in a widespread public corruption scheme where he filtered money to Limas in exchange for favorable court rulings and treatment for Rosenthal & Watson clients. Rosenthal had offices in Austin and Brownsville.

Solis, a San Benito Democrat, was used to facilitate the kickbacks to the former judge, who lost his re-election bid in 2008.

The evidence also revealed that Rosenthal paid witnesses for false statements and testimony in personal injury actions, fixed the random case-assignment system in Cameron County so that cases were filed in courts he preferred, and participated in other acts of fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The scheme netted Rosenthal and his associates lucrative judgments, including a $14 million Union Pacific settlement.

The scandal has brought down several once-powerful legal figures in South Texas and shook the border region's confidence in the legal system. A total of eight defendants entered guilty pleas related to violations uncovered during the FBI's four-year public corruption investigation.

Limas, 61, the state district judge at the center of the scandal, is serving a six-year sentence at a minimum security prison in Florida. He pleaded guilty to racketeering in 2013.

Solis, 52, who served in the Texas House of Representatives for more than a decade ending in 2006, was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison after his guilty plea to aiding and abetting the extortion by Limas.

Former Cameron County District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos, 47, was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison for his role.

The three men are all liable for $13.3 million in restitution assessed by the federal judge.

In early 2013, Brownsville attorney Ray Marchan jumped to his death from the Queen Isabella Bridge on the day he was expected to turn himself into authorities. He was convicted on racketeering charges linked to Limas and sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison, which was vacated upon his death. A few months later, his 22 year-old daughter also committed suicide.

The State Bar of Texas suspended Rosenthal's license to practice law last year. On Friday, a spokeswoman with the state bar said that its next step is to seek permanent disbarment now that Rosenthal's conviction is upheld.

Rosenthal is serving his 20-year prison sentence at a low-security federal prison in East Texas, which will be followed by three years of supervised release.

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