Seemingly remorseful, former state Rep. Jim Solis stood quietly as U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen sentenced him Friday to nearly four years in a federal penitentiary for his role in bribing ex-404th District Judge Abel C. Limas.
“It’s hard to imagine anything worse that a lawyer can do,” Hanen told Solis of bribing a judge, adding that Solis had “betrayed the public trust and violated the oath to uphold the laws.”
Hanen sentenced Solis to 47 months in a federal prison, ordered that he pay restitution of approximately $40,000 each to former Cameron County District Attorney Yolanda de Leon; attorney Peter Zavaletta and Freedom Communications, the former owners of The Brownsville Herald and Valley Morning Star, and to forfeit $250,000 in property.
Minutes earlier, Solis, family members and his defense attorneys had pleaded for leniency, describing him as a good church-going family man devoted to his sons, a man who had been very generous with his money, even providing a free legal clinic at his church. He was described as a man who helped youth and who had represented his community with distinction as a public servant.
Solis’ defense attorney Mervyn Mosbacker Jr. told the court that Solis’ conviction was a “glaring exception to the rest of his life,” adding that Solis had not initiated schemes.
Solis, 47, told Hanen that, “To show mercy would be human.”
“I fell and I’ll try to make it right,” Solis also told the court, saying he has learned his lesson.
Solis, who pleaded guilty in April 2011 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to aiding and abetting extortion, continues on a $50,000 unsecured bond until notified to report to a penitentiary.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael J. Wynne and Oscar Ponce prosecuted the government’s case against Solis who has been cooperating with federal investigators since March 2010.
With his defense attorney, retired Judge Robert Garza, standing immediately behind Solis — as if ready to catch him should he fall — Solis, who initially fought for composure as he was overcome with emotion in addressing Hanen, told the court, “Thank God I have the strength to get up to speak.”
“I’d like to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what has happened here. It should never have happened,” he told Hanen, apologizing to his wife, children, parents, siblings, family and friends.
He said the last three years have been “probably the worst,” costing him his law license and almost costing him his family, too.
Hanen said that Solis probably would not be able to get his law license back, but that he believes that Solis would end up being a productive member of the community. Hanen said he believes that Solis had “accidentally slid in (the schemes), got in deeper, stayed longer,” and paid a greater price than he thought he would.
“I know I did wrong. I’ve owned up to it,” the former seven-term state representative of District 38 also told Hanen during the proceedings.
Noting his appearance before Hanen, Solis said that never in his life would he have thought he would be convicted of a crime. “How much more demeaning can that be? How much lower?” Solis said.
Hanen also heard from victims of Solis and Solis’ co-conspirators.
Zavaletta said the actions of Solis and co-conspirators had damaged “our political and democratic process.”
Facing Hanen, former DA De Leon noted that the court is well aware of the sordid-details of the schemes, and that the damage that Solis and co-conspirators did to the judicial system and public institutions is “incalculable.”
She told the court that Solis and co-conspirators had tarred and feathered her with the criminal charges they had brought against her and had then conducted a public lynching
She noted that the defamation lawsuit and charges against her had fallen in Limas’ 404th court. “It was no surprise or accident.”
“I had no chance,” she said, adding that she had had no way to defend herself. “Everything was controlled,” she added, noting that they had destroyed her reputation.
De Leon spoke of the public embarrassment and humiliation she not only suffered, but also her husband, children, siblings, family and in-laws. She also said that their actions had been “hateful, spiteful and mean-spirited.”
There were “many dark days” and “despair,” De Leon said, noting that she had lost friendships due to the ordeal, had left the practice of law due to the cloud over her, and had even gotten to the point of being glad that her parents were not around to see this.
“No amount of church-going can do away with that,” De Leon said, turning to look at Solis.
“It was about money. It was all about money,” De Leon said.