Texas State Senator’s Fraud Trial Goes to the Jury

SAN ANTONIO (CN) — A federal jury in San Antonio on Tuesday began deliberating 11 felony charges against state Senator Carlos Uresti, who is accused of helping to run a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme called FourWinds Logistics, a bankrupt fracking enterprise.

“Mr. Uresti is here for his own lies, his own deceit, his own half truths,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph E. Blackwell told jurors in his closing statement. “Each and every investor group was lied to. Deceit and half truths. That’s what he did.”

Uresti, 54, a three-term Democrat from San Antonio, has been on trial since Jan. 22 with co-defendant Gary L. Cain. FourWinds CEO Stanley P. Bates pleaded guilty in January to eight felony charges, including securities fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.

Bates, who faces decades in prison when he is sentenced in April, did not testify at Uresti’s trial.

Prosecutors have depicted Uresti as a cash-strapped politician who used his “well-known name” to steer millions of dollars into the sham company, while hiding its true financial status from investors.

Defense attorneys say Uresti was an unknowing participant in Bates’ start-up company, who “didn’t know what the inner circle knew about FourWinds Logistics.”

“Senator Uresti knew everything the investors knew, and that’s it,” defense attorney Michael McCrum told jurors. “There’s no proof that he knew anything different than sophisticated investors.”

Prosecutors built their case through testimony of almost two dozen witnesses, including FBI and IRS agents and defrauded investors, including star witness Denise Cantu. Prosecutors said Uresti sexually groomed and exploited Cantu, and took nearly $900,000 in the Ponzi scheme that took millions of dollars from other unsuspecting investors.

Cantu, 38, testified that in the months before Uresti began pitching FourWinds to her, he routinely sent her sexually explicit text messages, had sex with her in a back restroom and shower at his law office, and he guaranteed that FourWinds “was as good as gold.”

“He did so much for me and my kids, you know, of course I trusted him. He’s an attorney; he’s a senator. I felt confident. The way he pitched it to me, I was going to make a lot more money,” Cantu told jurors on day nine of the trial.

Prosecutors said Uresti “needed money,” so he solicited Cantu and skimmed $40,000 from her initial $800,000 investment without her knowledge. Uresti had helped Cantu secure a $1 million settlement as her attorney in a wrongful death case involving two of her children.

She sued Uresti in state court. That case is pending.

Uresti, a former Marine and one of 11 Democrats in the 31-member Texas Senate, is married with children. His wife, Lleanna, sat behind him and his defense team throughout the month-long trial, with the exception of Cantu’s lurid testimony.

Uresti was re-elected to a third term in November 2016 with 56 percent of the vote and is not up for election until 2020. A personal injury attorney, Uresti spent a decade in the Texas House before winning election to the District 19 Senate seat in 2006. He took notes at times and scanned the courtroom, but sat mostly without expression at trial.

The investment scheme began to unravel when Cantu, suspicious that her monthly checks had stopped, demanded her investment back. When the FBI became involved, Cantu said, Uresti urged her “not to mention his name.”

Prosecutors say Uresti made $115,000 in seven and a half months of work as FourWinds’ general counsel and investment recruiter. He is charged with two counts of conspiracy, five counts of wire fraud, two counts of securities fraud, engaging in monetary transactions with property derived from specified unlawful activity, and being an unregistered securities broker.

Cain, 61, a consultant, made $210,000. He faces nine felony charges: conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering, and seven counts of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.

Defense attorney McCrum told the jury of 12, with three alternates, that there was no evidence Uresti knew there was a scheme to defraud investors. He told jurors they must find that the longtime lawmaker knew he was acting with intent to defraud.

Uresti did not testify in his own defense.

Jury deliberations began just before 3 p.m. Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra has declined two defense requests to dismiss, finding sufficient evidence against Uresti and his co-defendant to hand the case to jurors.

Outside the John H. Wood Jr. Federal Courthouse Tuesday afternoon, Uresti told reporters he feels confident he will be acquitted.

“I stood here almost a year ago on these courthouse steps with my wife and my attorneys and I let the people of San Antonio and the community know that I was not guilty of these charges,” he said.

If convicted of all charges, Uresti faces more than 200 years in prison. He also could lose his law license and will have to forfeit his state Senate seat.

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