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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Judicial Hopeful|Is Deep in the Soup

SAN ANTONIO (CN) - A politically ambitious Texas attorney faces charges of compelling prostitution from three clients who say they were forced to have sex with the judicial candidate in exchange for cash and legal services.

San Antonio police arrested Mark H. Benavides, an unofficial 2016 candidate for a Bexar County judgeship, on Nov. 17. He was released on $15,000 bond that night and has not made any public statements since then.

Benavides did not return a voicemail left with his law office Thursday afternoon.

According to an arrest warrant , Benavides, 46, enticed three female clients into sexual encounters at various locations, including the Bexar County Courthouse, his law office, a vehicle and a San Antonio motel.

"The defendant would transport the victims to a local motel for the purposes of a sexual encounter and would either pay them monetarily or expect the sex acts to be performed in exchange for legal services," according to the affidavit in support of the arrest warrant.

"The defendant would also use his position of legal counsel over the victim's criminal cases to press them into the sexual encounters."

One woman said Benavides threatened to drop her as a client unless she had sex with him in a courthouse room. She and a second woman identified Benavides by the scales of justice tattoo on his back.

Another accuser expressed fear that she had to have sex with her attorney or he would revoke her bond, the arrest warrant states.

A third victim represented by Benavides in two criminal cases said in the warrant that Benavides asked her to meet him for sex at a motel every Tuesday to "make payments" after she woman told him she could not come up with the full amount of his legal fees.

All three women told authorities that Benavides videotaped the sex.

"The victims all stated they were financially and emotionally attached to the defendant because he was their legal counsel for the criminal cases," according to the 3-page document.

Investigators with the Bexar County District Attorney's Office continue to interview and contact other clients of the Texas attorney. Benavides has not been formally indicted.

Compelling prostitution is a second-degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

"I think it's a disgrace to the profession," said Daniel Mehler, a San Antonio criminal defense attorney. "We have to go out of our way to not even appear to have such improprieties."

Mehler said he is part of a group of about a dozen attorneys who have agreed to take on the cases of Benavides' past and present court appointments pro bono.

"At best they're victims of sex crimes. These are poor indigent defendants who have allegedly been taken advantage of in the worst possible way," Mehler said.

"The DA's office is not done with this."

Benavides narrowly lost a primary election for a judicial post in 2014. The San Antonio Democrat has not officially announced plans to drop his 2016 bid, but has not yet filed for a place on the ballot.

The primary filing deadline in Texas is Dec. 14.

Benavides had been campaigning for the 175th District Court judgeship held by Judge Mary Roman. The court oversees felony prostitution cases.

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