Locked inside a prison cell in Bogotá, his client demanded to be told where his $ 1.5 million had gone.
The Texas lawyer, known at home as “DWI Dude”, along with his private investigator and a Colombian lawyer, discussed the deal again with the prisoner, Segundo Villota Segura, who was fighting extradition to the US for a case of drug trafficking. cocaine, according to court documents.
An FBI agent who overheard a recording of the conversation later testified that Segura hired lawyers to pay influential US officials who could make their criminal charges disappear.
When Segura asked the names of these employees, they refused to answer, the FBI agent testified.
That’s because it was a ploy, according to federal prosecutors.
No lawyer James Balagia, who earned the nickname by defending accused of drunk driving, Chuck Morgan, his private investigator in Florida, or Colombian lawyer Bibiana Perea paid any bribe and no one expected money, officials say.
They tricked Segura and two other alleged Colombian drug traffickers into paying them large sums of money, officials say.
“This defendant and his group were plotting drug traffickers – some of the biggest drug traffickers in the world,” US Attorney Joe Brown said in a statement after Bagalia’s sentencing in 2019, the last of the trio to be found guilty. “Fortunately for him, these traffickers chose to make him the FBI instead of dealing with it any other way.”
On Monday, a federal judge in Texas sentenced Bagalia to just over 15 ½ years in prison.
Bagalia, who had law firms in Manor and San Antonio, in central Texas, was convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice, violation of the Kingpin Act, conspiracy to commit electronic fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The Kingpin Act prohibits Americans from engaging in financial transactions with people whose names appear on a list of drug dealers, unless approved by a U.S. Treasury Department office.
Bagalia, a Libertarian Party candidate for Texas Attorney General in 2014, he was accused in the same year of receiving $ 350,000 from alleged drug dealer Hermes Casanova Ordonez and $ 900,000 from Segura, according to one indictment.
In 2016, Segura’s brother, Aldemar Villota Segura, paid Bagalia and another $ 1.2 million to take money to “the right people to free him from the charge,” according to the charge.
Prosecutors say Balagia provided Colombians with their personal bank information so that a network of anonymous people in the United States could deposit money into their account. Daily deposits totaled less than $ 10,000 to avoid detection by authorities, officials say.
Bagalia also received large cash payments of $ 70,000 to $ 120,000, including an exchange in the parking lot of a mall in a Houston suburb, officials say.
“We live in a country with the largest justice system in the world,” said US interim prosecutor Nicholas Ganjei in a statement. “This system, however, cannot work when court officials are corrupt. The evidence in this case showed that Balagia had been shaking his clients for years, claiming that he was able to buy favorable deals from prosecutors and judges. “