Several witnesses, including former state Rep. Jim Solis and ex-state District Judge Abel C. Limas, testified Thursday that they acted on requests and instructions from attorney Marc G. Rosenthal.
The defense, on the other hand, maintained through cross-examination of the government’s witnesses that they had acted on their own, without instructions from Rosenthal.
The testimony came at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen regarding the defense’s challenges to allegations that there had been a conspiracy, as alleged in the indictment that a federal grand jury returned against Rosenthal in August 2011. A hearing was required to determine if there had been a conspiracy as the government alleges, and thus also, if statements that alleged co-conspirators made outside court proceedings could be presented to the jury in Rosenthal’s trial.
Hanen ultimately ruled that there had been the existence of a conspiracy, and that Rosenthal had been an alleged member of the conspiracy.
Rosenthal is charged in a 13-count federal indictment accusing him of conspiring to bribe Limas and other charges.
Calm and composed, Solis, who had worked on civil cases with Rosenthal, testified that cases were steered to courts that Rosenthal considered “friendly,” including the 404th state District Court under Limas.
Solis also testified that he had helped Rosenthal in steering cases to Limas’ court.
"I called an individual that could do that, and the individual came through," Solis testified.
Solis testified that there was a plan aimed at keeping Limas in office in 2008 after he lost the primary to Judge Elia Cornejo-Lopez. Solis testified that the plan had been to stir bad publicity against Cornejo-Lopez. “They wanted to have Judge Lopez arrested for something she had done,” Solis testified.
Solis also testified that at Rosenthal’s request, Limas, just before leaving office, had transferred several cases to another court he considered friendly, the 357th state District Court under Judge Leonel Alejandro.
Solis also testified that in 2010, he received a cell phone from Rosenthal’s office in the mail with instructions that Solis use that telephone if he needed to talk to Rosenthal. Solis testified that Rosenthal knew something was going on, that the phones perhaps were being tapped.
Former Rosenthal employee Gilbert Benavides, also called as a prosecution witness, testified that his first cousin falsely posed as a witness in a case involving a train-vehicle collision near Rancho Viejo.
Benavides, who worked for Rosenthal from 2004 through early 2008, testified that Rosenthal had needed a witness and that Rosenthal had talked about this with Benavides’ uncle, the late Precinct 1 Cameron County Commissioner Pete Benavides Sr., and that Benavides Sr.’s stepson Jesse Mata subsequently had posed as the witness.
Benavides said that Mata’s story had been that he was traveling south and “had an urgent bowel-movement matter” and had needed to pull to the side of the roadway, seeing the vehicle involved in the collision. “Marc came up with the story,” Benavides testified.
Gilbert Benavides also testified that at Rosenthal’s direction he paid Mata $2,500 for this, and that Benavides Sr. received a wire-transfer in connection with the case.
He further testified that he delivered $20,000 to George Gavito, the former Brownsville Navigation District’s police chief in connection with Gavito’s assistance to Rosenthal in cases.
Defense attorney Ernesto Gamez Jr. on cross-examination elicited Benavides’ testimony that he had not passed the state bar exam and had taken the bar exam about four times in Texas and a couple of times in New Mexico.
Gamez also asked Benavides if it isn’t true that his nickname is “the weasel.” Benavides responded that two family members call many family members weasels.
Limas also was called to the stand, testifying about the Rosenthal cases that went to his court, favorable court rulings that he provided, and meetings that he had with Solis and Rosenthal. “Everybody had an important role, and, I guess, it worked,” Limas testified.
Limas also testified that after he left the bench, he approached Alejandro, asking him in ex-parte communications to deny a continuance on a case, “and he denied it,” Limas said.
Limas also testified that Rosenthal had wanted him to pay $10,000 to Brownsville City Manager Charlie Cabler and to the city’s civil service officer Carlos Ayala to ensure that then-police officer Jimmy Manrrique passed an exam for a lieutenant position.
Limas said that being lieutenant would have facilitated the rise to police chief.
Limas testified that Rosenthal told him that Manrrique would be going to Limas’ office.
"Jimmy showed up and told me exactly what he wanted also," Limas testified, adding, however, that he doesn’t know if Manrrique knew anything about the $10,000.
Limas testified that he did not offer the $10,000 to anyone, however.
"It was wrong," Limas testified when asked why not.
Manrrique told the Valley Morning Star late Thursday that he had not known anything about money, and had not gone to Limas’ office. He declined further comment.
Rosenthal is accused of conspiring to bribe Limas and bribing witnesses, filing fraudulent personal injury cases in state and federal courts, directing others to pay for the referral of cases, making arrangements to manipulate the random case assignment system at the Cameron County District Clerk’s Office, and paying witnesses to provide false testimony and statements.
The indictment also charges that Rosenthal’s law firm Rosenthal & Watson was a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) enterprise. Rosenthal has pleaded not guilty. His trial is slated to begin Jan. 31 in Corpus Christi with the selection of the jury.
Limas has been convicted of racketeering and Solis of aiding and abetting extortion. Both await sentencing.