Cartel Killing Trial Under Way in Texas

April 29, 2016
By David Lee
FORT WORTH (CN) – A Mexican drug cartel leader celebrated the assassination of a rival at a Dallas-area shopping center by throwing a beer bash and giving away a BMW and a hunting trip, the son of a defendant charged in the killing testified Thursday.
Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, Jesus Gerardo Ledezma Campano, 32, told jurors that Beltran Leyva cartel boss Rodolfo Villarreal Hernandez, known as El Gato, ordered the hit on Gulf Cartel lawyer and U.S. informant Juan Jesus Guerrero Chapa.
Guerrero was shot dead in May 2013 in broad daylight as he sat in his car at the Southlake Town Center shopping center in the affluent suburb of Southlake.
A white vehicle pulled up behind Guerrero Chapa, a shooter got out and fired through Guerrero’s window while ignoring Guerrero’s wife, who was not hurt. The shooter and getaway driver remain at large.
Mexican “last names” are the first last name, the patronymic. The “second last name” is the metronymic, which is used only on formal occasions.
Guerrero is believed to have represented former Gulf Cartel head Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for money laundering and drug trafficking.
Prosecutors indicted Ledezma’s father – private investigator Jesus Gerardo Ledezma Cepeda, 59 – and Jose Luis Cepeda Cortes, 59, in 2014, charging the cousins with interstate stalking in the murder-for-hire conspiracy.
Neither man is accused of being the gunman, but of traveling from Mexico to Southlake “with the intent to kill” Chapa.
The younger Ledezma testified that El Gato (the Cat) spent $1 million tracking Guerrero. Prosecutors say Cepeda used public records and a GPS device attached to Guerrero’s car to follow him.
Ledezma pleaded guilty to helping the defendants track Guerrero, in exchange for protection for his family. He told the jury he was testifying because “it’s the right thing to do” under “my morals and values that my mother taught me.”
Both Ledezma and his father cried and wiped tears from their eyes during his emotional testimony. Ledezma testified that Guerrero was one of many targets El Gato ordered his father to track. He said El Gato’s targets usually get kidnapped and tortured “if they are lucky.”
Ledezma said that when he tried to back away from the plot to find Guerrero, El Gato’s men shot at him in Mexico and ran him over with a car, leaving him seriously injured and in a hospital.
Ledezma testified that a GPS device the men placed on a car belonging to Guerrero’s sister-in-law in nearby Grapevine led them to Guerrero’s home in Southlake. He said that on the day of the murder when they were following Guerrero, he was sent to get coffee in the town square and he was told of the killing when he returned to the trio’s rented car.
When El Gato learned of the killing, he said thank you and “now his dad can rest in peace,” Ledezma said.
During opening statements Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua T. Burgess said El Gato wanted revenge on Guerrero for the death of his father.
He said the defendants stalked Guerrero for several months until they led a cartel assassin to Southlake Town Square, acting as “hunting guides.” Burgess said that while Guerrero did illegal things, “no one deserves to get murdered.”
Cepeda’s attorney, Wes Ball with Ball & Hase in Arlington, told the court El Gato ordered his client to take the job, and he had no choice because of fear for his family in Monterrey, where he had previously been a policeman.
“This is no job offer,” he said. “This is a different world. Ledezma does what he is told; he had no choice.”
Mexican drug cartels operate with police agencies on a system known as plomo o plata: lead or silver. Either take bribes or take lead.
Ball said his client was a private investigator whose work usually involved following cheating spouses.
Cortes’ attorney, Robert Rogers of Dallas, said his client was an unknowing accomplice who did not know his cousin was involved in a murder for hire. He said Cortes was lured by offers of free trips to Miami and Dallas.

From Courthouse News.

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Tony Romo’s Company Tells NFL to Butt Out

April 28, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s company filed a second lawsuit against the National Football League on Wednesday, claiming it pressured sponsor EA Sports to pull out of his fantasy sports convention in California.
The Fan Expo sued the NFL in Dallas County Court on Wednesday, regarding its annual The National Fantasy Football Convention, set for July in Pasadena. Romo himself is not a party to the lawsuit.
“Less than two weeks after the press release [announcing the event] was issued by the NFFC, the NFL tortiously interfered with the NFFC’s contracts with sponsors by contacting NFFC sponsors and requiring at least one NFFC sponsor to cancel its participation at the 2016 NFFC event,” the complaint states.
Fan Expo says an EA Sports official confirmed in April that it was canceling its sponsorship agreement “as a direct result of communication from the NFL.”
The official said the NFL saw the EA Sports logo on the convention’s website and asked it to cancel its participation, according to the complaint.
“On Tuesday, April 26, 2016, another confirmed sponsor of the 2016 NFFC event and one potential sponsor of the 2016 NFFC event canceled their participation abruptly and within fifteen minutes of one another,” the complaint states. “Both cancellations were without explanation. On information and belief, they had likewise received communication from the NFL.”
Attorneys for the NFL did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Wednesday afternoon.
Fan Expo seeks actual and punitive damages for business disparagement and tortious interference. It is represented by Julie Pettit, and by Michael K. Hurst with Lynn Pinker Cox Hurst, both of Dallas.
Romo’s company first sued the NFL in July 2015, claiming it had banned players and league employees from participating in the inaugural NFFC in Las Vegas last year. The NFL said the Sands Expo and Convention Center venue violated the league’s gambling policy.
“(J)ust weeks before the inaugural event, the NFL placed a series of intimidating phone calls to players, their families, their agents, and the NFL Players Association (‘NFLPA’), threatening that the players would be fined and potentially suspended from the NFL if they participated in the event,” the complaint stated.
Romo said in June that the league could have called him or convention organizers instead of “almost scaring” players scheduled to attend.
“That just seems silly to me. We could have been far more mature about this,” he said at the time. “That makes you think it was just about money, and that’s disappointing.”
In March this year, state District Judge Carl Ginsberg dismissed Fan Expo’s claims of fraud, tortious interference and business disparagement in the first lawsuit.
Fan Expo’s remaining estoppel and breach of contract claims survived and the case is moving forward. Romo is not a party in that lawsuit, either.
Fan Expo’s attorney Michael Hurst, with Gruber Hurst in Dallas, said at the time that the NFL’s actions were “not just about money, but about control.”
“The NFL acts like its players are owned by them,” Hurst said. “It acts like they are chattel. They are not.”
Hurst noted that the league went after Romo but has not gone after New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for his Gronk’s Party Ship, held on a cruise ship with a casino.

From Courthouse News.

Manslaughter Verdict for Volunteer Tulsa Deputy

April 27, 2016
By David Lee
TULSA, Okla. (CN) – An Oklahoma jury deliberated for three hours before convicting a white former volunteer sheriff’s deputy of manslaughter Wednesday night in the shooting death of a restrained black man during an arrest.
The Tulsa County jury found insurance executive Robert Bates, 73, guilty of second-degree manslaughter. It recommended he serve four years in state prison, the maximum punishment they could recommend.
Bates’ attorney, Clark Brewster with Brewster & De Angelis in Tulsa, looked perplexed when the verdict was read. Sheriff’s deputies immediately cuffed Bates and led him out of the courtroom, the Tulsa World newspaper reported.
The jury was apparently not swayed by hours of defense expert witness testimony that Eric Harris, 44, died of a heart attack instead of a gunshot. Bates is shown in a body camera video shooting a restrained Harris during a gun-sale sting and arrest last year.
Bates has steadfastly said he mistook his gun for his Taser, screaming, “Taser!” before firing and immediately apologizing as Harris screamed that he had been shot.
During closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney John David Luton told jurors Harris deserved to be chased, taken down and arrested, but he “didn’t deserve to be gunned down and killed.”
Luton told jurors not to be swayed by Bates’ medical expert testimony that the gunshot did not kill Harris and to use common sense. He cited testimony of the two physicians who actually touched Harris who agreed he died from blood loss.
“Do we need an expert to tell us he died from a gunshot wound?” Luton asked. “Ridiculous.”
Brewster reminded jurors of Harris’ criminal history, mentioning previous armed robbery convictions, a prison escape and battery of a law enforcement officer in describing the danger he posed to officers.
“Incidentally, I didn’t write his resume,” he said. “He wrote his resume.”
Brewster repeated that the gunshot did not kill Harris, that he was shot moments before he died of a heart attack.
On rebuttal, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray said that Bates had told investigators that Harris’ death was on his conscience.
“I am asking you to put it on his record,” Gray said.

From Courthouse News.

Robert Bates’ Defense Says Bullet Didn’t Kill Man

April 27, 2016
By David Lee
TULSA (CN) – A defense witness testified Tuesday that Eric Harris died from a heart attack, not a gunshot, during the manslaughter trial of former volunteer Tulsa County sheriff’s deputy Robert Bates.
Emergency medicine specialist Dr. Mark Brandenburg said a medical examiner’s conclusion that Harris bled to death after being shot is “absolutely untrue,” the Tulsa World newspaper reported.
Brandenburg testified there was no evidence of bleeding in Harris’s chest cavity or of a lung collapse.
The doctor concluded that Harris, a black man, had a heart attack caused by elevated adrenaline and a “very high level” of methamphetamine in his body that “would impact a person.”
Brandenburg said adrenaline is an instigator of cardiac arrest and that Harris had an “underlying primary heart problem.”
Prosecutors asked on cross-examination how Harris could not have bled to death if doctors had to pump 4.5 liters of blood into him, and Harris’s body had only six liters of blood.
Asked where the pumped blood could have gone, Brandenburg said into defects, such as a punctured lung cause by a bullet.
Prosecutors also said that though the defense has said Harris appeared to be high on methamphetamine twice before when he bought guns, he did not die then.
Bates, 73, a white insurance executive, faces up to four years in prison if convicted of second-degree manslaughter.
He is shown in a body camera video shooting an restrained Harris, 44, during a gun sale sting and arrest last year.
Bates has steadfastly said he mistook his gun for his Taser, screaming, “Taser!” before firing and immediately apologizing as Harris screamed that he had been shot.

From Courthouse News.

Ken Paxton Defends Himself to Tea Party

April 26, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke at length for the first time about the felony securities fraud charges against him and implied that his bank accounts have been frozen, prompting his attorney to deny that Paxton ever had been audited or investigated by the IRS.
Paxton, a Republican from McKinney, spoke to the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party on Saturday, criticizing the media coverage of his case and self-interested fellow Republicans in the Texas Legislature.
“I want you to imagine that you have a neighbor and you have lived next to him for 30 years,” Paxton said. “That neighbor has always been a pretty good neighbor. Sometimes he took out your dog when you are on vacation and watered your plants, says hi every morning. And then after 35 years that neighbor takes a new job. Suddenly, this neighbor is in all kinds of trouble. He is being investigated by the IRS … some of his bank accounts are shut down. Some of his retirement accounts are being shut down. You find out the guy in being investigated by the Travis County DA, then the Dallas County DA, then the Collin County DA. And then you find out he is being investigated by the SEC. You have to ask yourself, is there a character problem here? This person has been in no trouble for 35 years and then, suddenly, they’re having all this trouble.’ Well, that’s in essence what is happening to me.”
Paxton said everything happened after he was sworn into office as attorney general.
“I have had no speeding tickets in my life,” he said. “I have never been audited by the IRS. Never been investigated – never, no bar grievances with the State Bar.”
Paxton’s legal woes began when the Texas State Securities Board fined him $1,000 in 2014 after he admitted he had solicited clients for a friend’s investment firm, Mowery Capital Management, without being registered as an investment adviser while he was a state senator. Paxton paid the fine and was reprimanded.
That case led to a Texas Rangers investigation that resulted a three-count felony securities fraud indictment in Collin County in August 2015.
Prosecutors say Paxton urged investors in 2011 to invest $600,000 in technology firm Servergy without telling them he would earn a commission on it, and misrepresented that he was investing in the McKinney-based company.
The Securities and Exchange Commission piled on two weeks ago when it filed a civil suit against Paxton and others in Dallas Federal Court, closely mirroring allegations in the criminal case – that he hid compensation he was given for touting Servergy.
Paxton’s attorney, William Mateja with Polsinelli in Dallas, clarified his client’s comments by denying that his bank or retirement accounts have ever been shut down.
“Paxton has not been audited or investigated by the IRS, as you can clearly see by his remarks below wherein he states that he has not been audited or investigated,” Mateja said in a statement Monday evening.

From Courthouse News.

State Rests in Tulsa Volunteer Deputy’s Trial

April 26, 2016
By David Lee
TULSA (CN) – The prosecution rested Monday in the manslaughter trial of former volunteer Tulsa County sheriff’s deputy Robert Bates, and jurors handled a Taser and revolver as they consider Bates’ claim he accidentally shot an unarmed black man instead of Tasering him.
Bates, 73, a white insurance executive, faces up to four years in prison if convicted of second-degree manslaughter. He is shown in a body camera video shooting an restrained Eric Courtney Harris, 44, during a gun sale sting and arrest last year.
Bates has repeatedly said he mistook his gun for his Taser, screaming “Taser” before firing and immediately apologizing as Harris screamed he had been shot.
Prosecutors told jurors that Bates’ mistaking his gun for his Taser amounts to culpable negligence, according to the Tulsa World newspaper.
Bates’ attorney Clark Brewster, with Brewster & De Angelis in Tulsa, told jurors the Taser and revolver Bates was carrying were very similar in grip and weight and both had laser sights.
Prosecutor Kevin Gray disagreed, pointing out that the Taser must be activated with the flip of a switch before being fired, while the gun requires only the pull of a trigger.
State District Judge William Musseman rejected a defense motion to dismiss after the prosecution rested, disagreeing with the claim that prosecutors had failed to present enough evidence that the gunshot had killed Harris.
The defense called as their first witness Dr. Charles Morgan, a psychologist who studies human cognitive errors during stressful situations. He testified that it would be “unusual” for no mistakes to occur in situations such as a gun sting where the suspect may be armed and is fleeing.
Morgan testified that highly trained people can make mistakes when under high stress due to adrenaline blocking reflective thinking and leaving reflexive actions to take place.
On cross-examination, Morgan testified that he will be paid $8,000 by Bates for his testimony.
Gray pointed out that Morgan’s usual research subjects are military personnel and that his research is not focused on local law enforcement agencies or volunteer officers, according to the Tulsa World.

From Courthouse News.

Exec Gets 6 Months for Role in Dallas Scandal

April 22, 2016
By David Lee
AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – A former BearingPoint executive was sentenced Friday to six months in federal prison for lying to federal investigators in a public corruption investigation involving indicted Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.
Helen Tantillo, 59, of Austin was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks. She was convicted in January on two counts of making a false statement to law enforcement. She had faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.
Price was indicted separately in July 2014, accused of taking more than $950,000 in cash, cars and real estate for supporting lucrative county contracts. Tantillo’s employer submitted a bid in 2014 for a multimillion-dollar contract to digitize Dallas County’s records, according to Tantillo’s indictment that was unsealed last June.
A county selection committee recommended rejecting BearingPoint’s bid, but the bid was allegedly saved by Price’s intervention.
The jury concluded that Tantillo falsely told FBI agents that a temporary $10,000 increase in consulting fees paid to political consultant Christian Campbell “was to make a charitable donation to the favorite charity” of an unidentified Dallas County commissioner.
“Contrary to her false statement, Tantillo knew that the increase was at least, in part, in order to pay [Price co-defendant and political consultant] Kathy Nealy,” prosecutors said in a statement. “The jury also determined that Tantillo told a second lie to FBI agents in that same interview when she claimed that, after an earlier interview with FBI agents, she called her former BearingPoint supervisor, who supposedly reminded her that the charitable donation was the reason for Campbell’s increased monthly payment. Phone records and other evidence at trial demonstrated that this call never happened.”
Campbell’s pay raise “was at least in part in order to pay” Nealy, the indictment said.
Campbell pleaded guilty last year to bribery concerning a local government receiving federal benefits. He admitted to knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy with Nealy and Price, among others, to “corruptly provide benefits to Price” in violation of federal law. Campbell said that when he opened his own consulting business, he “realized that Nealy exerted improper influence over Price” by paying Price for supporting her clients.
Price, known as “Our Man Downtown” by his constituents in south Dallas, has been in office since 1985. He is accused of taking cash bribes of more than $447,000, a new Chevrolet Avalanche every four years and a BMW 645Ci convertible that cost $191,000 to buy and insure.

From Courthouse News.