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Austin attorney arrested in judge's bribery scheme

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McALLEN, Texas -- An Austin attorney was arrested Monday on federal racketeering charges alleging bribery of an already-convicted judge as well as witnesses in state and federal cases.

Marc Rosenthal's indictment is only the latest of several tied to former state district Judge Abel C. Limas, who pleaded guilty to racketeering in March.

Charges in the indictment unsealed Monday allege that Rosenthal conspired to file personal injury cases in state and federal court based on false testimony; bribed witnesses and former state district Judge Abel C. Limas; and directed others to pay funeral directors and public employees for referrals to his firm.

At the center of Rosenthal's indictment is former state legislator Jose Santiago “Jim” Solis who worked “of counsel” in Brownsville for Rosenthal's firm.

Ernesto Gamez Jr., Rosenthal's attorney, placed the blame on Solis, making him out to be a rogue lawyer and “Rambo” figure bent on pulling Rosenthal down with him. Solis pleaded guilty in April to aiding and abetting Limas' extortion scheme.

Rosenthal, 49, turned himself over to federal authorities Monday in Brownsville and was later released on $100,000 bond, Gamez said. He entered a plea of not guilty.

The 13-count indictment charges that Rosenthal paid Limas for favorable rulings on his cases. It includes several counts of mail fraud on cases , one involving the crash of a medical services helicopter and another involving the corporate owner of the newspapers in Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen, and witness tampering involving the settlement of a federal lawsuit with Union Pacific railroad.

In June, Alicia Sanchez filed a lawsuit against Solis and Rosenthal, who helped her win a $14 million settlement after her husband died in a 2008 crash of a medical services helicopter. The lawsuit filed by Sanchez and her two children in Travis County seeks nearly $5.3 million.

Recorded conversations and phone calls between Limas, Solis and others laid out a plan to give Limas 10 percent of the attorney fees from the helicopter crash case settlement, federal court records in Solis' case show.

Limas also received a $100,000 advance from Solis and the law firm he partnered with on the case. Solis was of counsel for Rosenthal's firm. The judge also had an agreement to go work for that firm after leaving the bench, according to the documents.

Sanchez's lawsuit alleged that the other lawyer involved in the bribery scheme, referred to in court documents as “Person A,” was Rosenthal. The indictment unsealed Monday is separate from those of Limas and Solis and does not make that connection.

Investigators witnessed at least two meetings between Solis, Limas and “Person A” just before recording phone calls during which Limas explained what his compensation would be, according to documents in the criminal case.

Gamez said Monday that there would be no comment regarding the case against Limas since Rosenthal was facing his own indictment.

Instead Gamez placed the blame on Solis, who “started any and all of the allegations and bad conduct.”

“Whatever conduct he is responsible for is certainly unknown by Marc Rosenthal,” Gamez said.

Prosecutors also are seeking nearly $6 million in alleged ill-gotten gains, according to the indictment.

Rosenthal's firm declared his innocence in a statement released Monday.

“The admissions of wrongdoing from the judge and others are disheartening,” the statement from Rosenthal & Watson said. “But we were not aware of their improper activities. We expect to see Marc vindicated.”

Copyright 2011 Associated Press, All rights reserved.
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