The Dallas Morning News reports, “Jamie Balagia was identified guilty of wire fraud, obstruction and other charges soon after a two-week trial in connection with his representation of Colombian drug traffickers”
Jamie Balagia, has been charged by the FBI with conspiracy to commit dollars laundering and obstruction of justice in an alleged plot that took about $1.two million from Colombian clientele.
Jamie Balagia, a veteran Austin lawyer who created a name for himself defending men and women charged with drunken driving, was convicted Tuesday of federal corruption charges in connection with his scheme to shake down international drug traffickers.
Balagia, 62, was identified guilty of conspiracy to commit dollars laundering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and attempting to violate the Kingpin Act for accepting dollars from guys whom the feds designated as considerable drug traffickers with out official government permission.
The jury deliberated for about a day and a half following the two-week trial in the Eastern District of Texas in Sherman prior to U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant. Jurors agreed with prosecutors that Balagia and his cohorts scammed Colombian drug traffickers out of about $1.five million by claiming to use their connections to spend off U.S. officials to get their circumstances dropped.
Balagia faces up to 30 years in prison. He was taken into custody soon after the verdict was study. A sentencing date was not straight away obtainable.
Balagia ran in 2014 for Texas lawyer common on a Libertarian platform of legalizing marijuana. He named himself the “DWI Dude” for his experience and when arrived for a hearing in Plano with a Winnebago decorated with his image and the marketing slogan, “Busted? Contact the Dude!”
Sherman, an hour north of Dallas, has turn out to be a hot spot for prosecuting Colombian drug traffickers in current years. Ernest Gonzalez, a lead prosecutor who has turn out to be a national professional in such circumstances, never ever heard of Balagia when the Austin lawyer all of a sudden appeared on a federal court docket as the defense lawyer for Colombians indicted in a significant case.
The case featured 3 guys whom agents named the world’s largest cocaine producers and who have been a important hyperlink amongst Colombia’s cocaine fields and violent Mexican drug cartels. They reportedly made use of submarines to transport the cocaine and paid guerrilla fighters to shield their drug labs hidden in the mountains.
Balagia was arrested in 2017 soon after displaying up at the Collin County jail to meet with a client who was believed to be a single of the Colombian drug traffickers.
His two co-defendants in the case currently pleaded guilty and are serving federal prison sentences. Chuck Morgan, 82, his investigator, and Bibiana Correa Perea, a Colombian lawyer, each testified for the duration of the trial.
Balagia’s initial defense lawyer, Daphne Silverman, mentioned in court filings that Morgan was functioning for the DEA as a secret informant whose job it was to lure Colombian fugitives to the U.S. by finding them to cooperate.
“Through its personal investigation, defense counsel has discovered that Mr. Morgan has in the previous worked … for the CIA in several capacities beginning with piloting aircraft for the CIA in Vietnam and then top to bringing prospective clientele to lawyers with a objective of obtaining the clientele cooperate with the government,” a single of her court filings mentioned.
Morgan’s military records supported “his assertions that he flew for the CIA in Vietnam,” the filing mentioned.
But Mazzant granted the government’s motion to retain Morgan’s background out of the trial on the grounds that it was irrelevant to the charges against Balagia.
“This defendant and his group have been operating a scam on drug dealers – some of the largest drug dealers in the planet,” U.S. Lawyer Joe Brown mentioned in a statement. “Fortunately for him, these drug dealers chose to turn him into the FBI rather than deal with it any other way. It is significant for the American justice technique that we prosecute these who represent that the justice technique is for sale.
“The Colombians, and criminals in just about every other nation that we deal with, need to have to realize items do not function that way in the United States,” Brown mentioned. “When we have lawyers representing that officials can be purchased, we take that quite seriously.”
Balagia’s present defense lawyers have been appointed to the case just weeks prior to trial, soon after Silverman had to withdraw due to worsening overall health from cancer.
Gaylon Runnels and Matthew Hamilton asked the judge for a lot more time to prepare, but Mazzant refused to delay the trial any longer, pointing out that many continuances had currently been granted.
The lawyers issued the following statement: “We are disappointed with the outcome of the case. Having said that we are quite thankful for the jury’s time, and their cautious deliberations. We think there will be an appeal.”
Balagia took the witness stand in his personal defense and told jurors he was duped and manipulated by Morgan and Perea on what have been his initial international drug conspiracy circumstances. He also mentioned he didn’t realize that accepting money payments in modest deposits and in bags handed off in parking lots was viewed as dollars laundering.
Paying off officials
Balagia worked as an Austin police officer from 1979 to 1990. He’s been a licensed lawyer in Texas considering that 1992 and has a second workplace in San Antonio.
Morgan recruited him to take the circumstances of 3 Colombians who have been indicted in Sherman in 2013 and have been awaiting extradition to the U.S., according to trial testimony.
Hermes Casanova Ordonez and two brothers, Segundo Villota Segura and Aldemar Villota Segura, have been charged along with a lot more than a dozen other folks in a significant cocaine trafficking conspiracy, according to court records.
Perea’s job was to safe an American lawyer to support Segundo Segura, a court filing mentioned. Perea, who handles extradition circumstances, suggested Morgan and Morgan suggested Balagia, court records show.
Perea, identified as “Bibi,” hired Morgan for the job due to the fact he claimed to have a lengthy history of functioning for U.S. agencies like the FBI, DEA and Homeland Safety Investigations, according to court documents.
Balagia, Perea and Morgan in 2014 told the 3 Colombians they could have their charges decreased or dismissed in exchange for a seven-figure sum, court documents show. They mentioned they would use some of the dollars to bribe “high-profile” U.S. officials, according to government proof.
Balagia met with Segundo Segura at La Picota Prison in Bogota, Colombia, in December 2015 along with Perea and Morgan, the indictment mentioned. In the course of the meeting, which was taped, Segundo Segura pressed them for specifics.
“Now Segundo, you know I would never ever expose everyone,” Morgan told him. “When we get into this, it gets quite messy. As you know, the lawyer has to remain quite, quite clean.”
Balagia mentioned for the duration of the meeting that anonymity was significant and, “By undertaking it the way that we’re undertaking it … it offers me the capacity to close my ears at times if I need to have to, and it protects all of us.”
Segundo’s brother, Aldemar, was extradited to the U.S. and agreed to cooperate with authorities who have been investigating Balagia and his associates, prosecutors say.
Aldemar Segura met with Balagia and Morgan at the Collin County jail in October 2016 to go over payments, court records show. The meeting was taped. Segura persuaded the pair to also meet with his bookkeeper and private representative, who was an undercover FBI agent, court records show.
In November 2016, the undercover FBI agent met with Morgan at a North Texas restaurant to provide a $300,000 partial payment, court records say. Morgan was arrested when he took a suitcase complete of money from the agent’s car, records show.
“The defendant made use of his position as an lawyer to not only steal from drug lords, but also to sell out the U.S. justice technique in order to line his personal pockets,” Matthew J. DeSarno, FBI unique agent in charge of the Dallas Field Workplace, mentioned in a statement. “The FBI prioritizes all circumstances of public corruption and we will continue to hold these officials accountable for utilizing their positions to advantage financially.”
Aldemar Segura and Ordonez pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges and have been provided lengthy prison terms. But due to the fact they cooperated with authorities in the government’s criminal case against Balagia, they stand to advantage from decreased sentences.
Segundo Segura remains in a Colombian prison, exactly where he continues to fight extradition to the U.S. by claiming membership with FARC, a rebel group that has unique protections in that nation.
This report was updated to contain a comment from the defense lawyers.