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April 14, 2011

FORMER STATE DISTRICT COURT JUDGE CONVICTED OF ACCEPTING BRIBES FOR FAVORABLE RULINGS

Former 404th JDC Judge acknowledges using former court as a criminal enterprise to enrich himself

(BROWNSVILLE, Texas) – The formal charges as well as the plea agreement and factual summary executed by a former state district court judge resulting in his conviction for using his state court as an illegal racketeering enterprise by soliciting and accepting bribes in his official capacity in return for favorable judicial action have been unsealed, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.

On March 31, 2011, Abel Corral Limas, 56, the former elected judge of the 404th Judicial District Court in Brownsville, Cameron County, Texas, pleaded guilty before United States District Court Judge Andrew Hanen to a one-count criminal indictment charging him with racketeering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1962(c) (RICO). The indictment, returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Brownsville on March 29, 2011, was initially unsealed upon Limas’ appearance before the Magistrate Judge on March 31, 2011. However, that afternoon at the defendant’s request and over government objection, the district court ordered the indictment re-sealed and the sealing of the executed plea agreement and factual summary for a period of two weeks. The government’s motion to unseal those documents was granted today. 

Limas, who presently practices law in Brownsville, served two terms as a state district judge beginning in January 2001 and ending in December 2008, following his defeat in the Democratic primary in March 2008.

On March 31st, Limas acknowledged the facts in a lengthy recitation of the evidence against him read into the record in open court by the United States which proved that Limas used his state elected office as the sitting judge of the 404th District Court to enrich himself through bribery and extortion. Limas accepted money from criminal defendants and intermediaries in return for favorable judicial rulings in criminal cases, including terminations of probationary terms and modification of probationary terms and bond terms. He also accepted money and other consideration from attorneys in civil cases pending in his court in return for favorable pre-trial rulings in certain cases, including a case involving a helicopter crash at South Padre Island in February 2008. He also accepted money from attorneys in return for ad litem appointments. Limas also acknowledged receiving a total of $257,300 between August 2007 through Jan. 2, 2009, through his illegal racketeering enterprise. 

“Our judicial system depends upon the integrity and honesty of our judges to faithfully execute their duty to fairly and impartially administer the law,” said U.S. Attorney Moreno. “Limas’ greed deprived the citizens of Cameron County of the honest services expected of him as a duly elected official. He will face the consequences for his self-dealing and abuse of his official position. He is now a convicted felon and will in due course be fairly and impartially sentenced.”      

Limas faces a maximum prison term of 20 years, a fine of up to twice the amount of gross proceeds received as a result of the bribery and extortion and a maximum five-year-term of supervised release at his sentencing hearing, set for July 5, 2011. Limas has been ordered released on a $50,000 unsecured bond pending his sentencing hearing.

The person who allegedly serves as  “middle man” for Limas’ criminal enterprise, Jose Manuel Longoria, 52, a resident alien from Mexico residing in San Benito, Texas, was arrested on Thursday, March 31, 2011, by agents of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and officers of the Brownsville Police Department (BPD) as a result of a warrant which issued following the filing of a criminal complaint under seal on March 30, 2011. Longoria is accused of wire fraud arising from a scheme to defraud the state of Texas and its citizens of their right to the honest services of a state district judge performed free from deceit, favoritism, bias, self-enrichment and self-dealing. A conviction for wire fraud carries a maximum punishment of up to 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine, upon conviction. Magistrate Judge Felix Recio set a bond of $100,000 for Longoria who at this time remains in custody.  A criminal complaint is merely an accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

The charges against Limas and Longoria are the result of an ongoing three-year investigation being conducted by the FBI, DEA and the Brownsville Police Department. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Wynne and Oscar Ponce are prosecuting the case.

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