BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Federal prosecutors showed jurors a check Wednesday that they said was one of several bribes a South Texas lawyer paid to a judge in exchange for favorable rulings.
Lawyer Ray Marchan wrote out the $5,000 check to the wife of Abel Limas, who was then a state district judge, on a day investigators secretly photographed Limas entering and leaving Marchan’s office, prosecutors said. The evidence came on the second day of Marchan’s bribery trial, which is the first to stem from a broad four-year investigation into judicial corruption.
Marchan has pleaded not guilty to the seven counts he faces, including racketeering and conspiracy. He is accused of paying Limas bribes totaling more than $11,000 in 2008 for appointments and favorable decisions. Marchan’s lawyer, Noe Garza, said Tuesday that his client was just helping his friend Limas with his debts and Wednesday questioned whether someone would pay a bribe with a check. Limas has already pleaded guilty to racketeering for turning his courtroom into a personal moneymaker and awaits sentencing.
It was clear from the trial’s start that Limas would be as much a focus of the trial as Marchan, and prosecutors said the former judge would be called to testify on Thursday.
Brownsville police Officer Albert Toriz, who was assigned to the FBI task force carrying out the bribery probe, identified Limas as the person he photographed walking in and out of Marchan’s law office in June 2008.
He said he had been on call and ready to conduct surveillance any time the FBI heard about a meeting through wiretaps on Limas’ phones. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wynne then showed jurors a copy of the check, implying that was what Limas picked up during his five-minute visit to the office.
Prosecutors allege Marchan paid Limas that money so that he would deny an opposing lawyer’s request for $21,250 in sanctions in a matter before Limas’ court.
The federal investigation has swept up a dozen people, half of them lawyers, since someone tipped the FBI in late 2007. For most of 2008, investigators were listening in on Limas’ cell and home phones, intercepting some 40,000 calls.
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