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Saturday, January 20, 2018

God Tells Texas Judge To Intervene In Jury Deliberations

From Above the Law:

A Texas judge, Jack Robison, interrupted jury deliberations to tell the jurors that God told him that the defendant was not guilty. From the Austin-American Statesmen:
A Comal County judge said God told him to intervene in jury deliberations to sway jurors to return a not guilty verdict in the trial of a Buda woman accused of trafficking a teen girl for sex.

Judge Jack Robison apologized to jurors for the interruption, but defended his actions by telling them “when God tells me I gotta do something, I gotta do it,” according to the Herald-Zeitung in New Braunfels.

The jury defied God, or at least whoever Judge Robinson was talking to, and convicted Gloria Romero-Perez of “continuous trafficking of a person.” They later sentenced her to 25 years in prison, but by that point Judge Robinson had recused himself.

I… imagine this will trigger some kind of state ethics review. Religion aside, when judges start admitting to being guided by VOICES THAT ONLY THEY CAN HEAR… that’s a good time to reconsider a person’s fitness for the bench.

Perry Don Cortese Update from FBI

Here's the full press release from the FBI

International Fraud and Money Laundering Scheme
Two Sentenced in Wide-Reaching Criminal Conspiracy

A Texas businesswoman and a Texas lawyer were recently sentenced to lengthy federal prison terms for their roles in an international money laundering conspiracy that defrauded dozens of victims across the U.S. Both were also ordered to pay restitution of more than $3.7 million to their victims.

Last October, Priscilla Ann Ellis—after being convicted by a federal jury—received 40 years in prison, while attorney Perry Don Cortese received 25. Ellis’ daughter, Kenietta Rayshawn Johnson—who took part in the conspiracy as well—was sentenced to 40 months. Three additional individuals were also indicted as part of the conspiracy—one pleaded guilty and two are awaiting extradition from Canada. And eight other individuals have been charged separately.

And for Ellis, as if a 40-year prison term wasn’t long enough, she—while being temporarily held at a local jail right after her conviction in the money laundering conspiracy—tried to solicit other inmates to help her hire a hit man to murder several witnesses who had just testified again her at trial (and then attempted to undertake another financial fraud scheme to pay for the hit man). She was convicted on those charges in March of last year, and on January 4 of this year, she received an additional 65 years in prison—a term that will run consecutively to the 40 years she got for the original case.

The money laundering investigation was run by Special Agent Deven Williams out of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office—one of the original subjects was operating out of the Tampa area and had opened more than 80 bank accounts there.

According Williams, the investigation began when the FBI Atlanta Field Office—with a fraud victim who had wired money to a bank account in Tampa—sent a lead to Tampa requesting an interview with the owner of the bank count. “Also,” explained Williams, “a law firm in Tampa had been targeted by fraud and it approached the Tampa Police Department, who then referred it to the FBI. From there, we were able to link the two together.”

Here’s what investigators uncovered:

From at least January 2012 to around September 2015, the conspirators defrauded dozens of victims across the United States and then laundered the funds, much of which were sent overseas.

The fraud schemes took many forms:

Many victims were law firms solicited online to perform legal work—they were sent counterfeit cashier’s checks for deposit into the firms’ trust accounts, and then were directed to wire money to third-party businesses that were actually shell companies whose bank accounts were controlled by the conspirators.
Others victims were title companies defrauded in phony real estate transactions.
Additional victims were targeted and defrauded by fake suitors on dating websites.
And hackers, employed by the conspirators, compromised both individual and business e-mail accounts, ordering wire transfers from brokerage and business accounts to shell accounts controlled by the conspirators.
The FBI-led investigation was successful primarily because of its effective and complex “follow the money” approach.
Ellis herself laundered several million dollars’ worth of fraud proceeds through her bank accounts and other accounts under her control, and she also arranged for the creation of high-quality forgeries of checks and other documents used in the schemes. Her daughter, a bank employee in Virginia, helped create counterfeit cashier’s checks and monitored the flow of money between accounts used by the criminals. And Cortese, a long-time lawyer with plenty of knowledge about how law firms operated, helped launder money through law firms’ trust accounts and often met in person with individuals to pick up the cash withdrawn from receiver bank accounts.

“Victims were always instructed to wire money into U.S. accounts under the control of conspirators,” explained Williams. “Then, money mules would physically withdraw the money and move it quickly to other accounts in the United States and, eventually—often using money transmitting services—to overseas accounts. And all of this happened before victims even realized they had been defrauded.” Conspirators in Canada, Nigeria, South Korea, Senegal, and elsewhere helped coordinate the fraud from abroad.

The FBI-led investigation was successful primarily because of its effective and complex “follow the money” approach, explained Williams, which included tracing the flow of illegal funds from beginning to end. Also playing a key role in the outcome of the case was assistance from other law enforcement agencies, including the Toronto Police Service.

The defendants in this case were more than amply compensated for their criminal activities, but according to Williams, Ellis lived an especially lavish lifestyle. “She owned a large home in Texas along with various businesses and other real estate, bought luxury vehicles and other expensive items, and traveled the world on the millions of dollars she made off the backs of her hard-working victims,” he said.

And according to court documents, neither she nor Cortese ever expressed any remorse over the damage they left in the wake of their actions.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Former Texas Judge and Baptist leader sued for sex assault

Paul Pressler, former Texas judge and religious right leader, accused of sexually assaulting teen for years.

A lawsuit filed this fall alleges that Paul Pressler, a former state judge, lawmaker and leader on the religious right, repeatedly sexually assaulted a young man over a period of decades, beginning when the boy was just 14.

The lawsuit alleges that Paul Pressler, a former justice on the 14th Court of Appeals who served in the Texas state house from 1957–59, sexually assaulted Duane Rollins, his former bible study student, several times per month over a period of years. According to the filing, the abuse started in the late 1970s and continued less frequently after Rollins left Houston for college in 1983.

In a November court filing, Pressler “generally and categorically [denied] each and every allegation” in Rollins’ petition.

The abuse, which consisted of anal penetration, took place in Pressler’s master bedroom study, the suit alleges. According to the lawsuit, Pressler told Rollins he was “special” and that the sexual contact was their God-sanctioned secret.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Texas Lawyer Top 10 Misbehaving Lawyers Include Perry Cortese and Kevin Fine; Passing of Scott Stehling

Two lawyers who frequently appeared in Hill Country courts made Texas Lawyer's annual top 10 list of attorneys who got in big time trouble in 2017.  Kevin Fine was at the top of the list, and Perry Don Cortese was # 7. From the article:
 Kevin Fine, a former state district judge who was arrested in a sting operation for felony attempted drug possession.
Fine had been sober for 10 years when he won election to Harris County’s 177th District Court in 2008. He’d won the job by campaigning on promises that he would help other addicts get sober and get out of the court system and later resigned from the bench in 2012 to return to private practice. But Fine was later arrested for the second time in two years on May 1 when he was caught by police in a drug sting in central Texas. According to court records, a woman who hired Fine to represent her against drug charges told a Kerr County Sheriff’s investigator that the lawyer would take payment in cash or trade sex and drugs for his services. Fine was arrested after police watched him discuss a meth deal with the woman. Fine later resigned his law license as a condition of a plea deal in one of the felony drug cases he faced.
Perry Don Cortese, a Little River lawyer who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for an international money laundering scheme that ripped off law firms.
Cortese had a good thing going in Texas with his business partner Priscilla Ann Ellis. They would incorporate shell companies, open bank accounts for those fake companies and then contact lawyers and law firms for transactional work for their bogus business ventures—merely as a way to gain access to the attorney and law firms legal trust accounts. They would eventually end up taking $8.8 million from the lawyers and the law firms in which they ordered them to move the supposed proceeds of transactional conclusions to international money launderers between 2012 and 2015 before Cortese and Ellis were finally caught. In 2016, a Florida federal jury found both Cortese and Ellis guilty of money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Ellis was sentenced to 40 years for her role in the scheme. And on Oct. 21, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday of the Middle District of Florida sentenced Cortese to 25 years in prison for his part in the scam.
The article didn't mention that Cortese's co-defendant tried to hire a hitman to kill the witnesses and give them 'Columbian neckties.' 
On a sadder note, we lost Scott Stehling this year. Scott was a great lawyer, and had he continued in criminal law could have been in the top tier of criminal trial lawyers in the country. In his younger days he practiced criminal law. In the early 1980's he defended one of the degenerates in the Slave Ranch trial (Carlton Caldwell, the ranch foreman), who got a 14 year sentence instead of life in prison.  He won an acquittal for a teenage delinquent tried for helping two other young me murder the wealthy heir to old San Antonio family at his ranch in Edwards County.  He was also a gentleman, courtly and kind. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

DOJ Press Release on Perry Don Cortese Federal Prison Sentence

Texas Attorney Sentenced To 25 Years In Prison For International Money Laundering Conspiracy

Tampa, Florida – U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday today sentenced attorney Perry Don Cortese (54, Little River, Texas) to 25 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit international money laundering and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. As part of his sentence, the Court entered a money judgment in the amount of $9,288,241.36. Cortese was also ordered to pay restitution to the victims in the amount of $3,767,196.

A federal jury found Cortese guilty on October 21, 2016.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Cortese and his business partner, Priscilla Ann Ellis, as well as Ellis’s daughter, Kenietta Rayshawn Johnson, were members of an international criminal organization that defrauded dozens of victims across the United States and then laundered the funds. Much of the money was sent overseas. Many victims were law firms that had been solicited online to perform legal work, provided counterfeit cashier’s checks for deposit into the firms’ trust accounts, and then directed to wire money to third-party shell businesses controlled by the conspirators. Others victims included title companies defrauded in phony real estate transactions or individuals targeted by fake suitors on dating websites. The conspiracy also employed hackers who compromised both individual and corporate email accounts, ordering wire transfers from brokerage and business accounts to shell accounts controlled by conspirators.

As part of the scheme, victims were instructed to wire money into funnel accounts held by conspirators, known as “money mules.” The funds were then then quickly moved to other accounts in the United States and around the world before the victims could discover the fraud. Bank records indicated that, from 2012 to 2015, several million dollars’ worth of wire transfers were received into the accounts to be laundered. Conspirators in Canada, Nigeria, South Korea, Senegal, and elsewhere helped coordinate the fraud from abroad.  

Cortese, a licensed attorney in Texas, worked for the conspirators by laundering victims’ money through his interest on lawyers trust accounts (“IOLTAs”). He also met with individuals in person to retrieve cash withdrawn from receiver accounts and recruited his paralegal and others to open such accounts to launder funds. Ellis laundered several million dollars’ worth of fraud proceeds through several bank accounts under her control. She also arranged for the creation of high-quality forgeries of checks and other documents. Johnson, then a bank employee at Capital One, helped create the counterfeit checks and monitor money flows between the conspirators’ accounts.

For her role in the conspiracy, Ellis was sentenced to 40 years in prison. As part of her sentence, the Court entered a money judgment against her in the amount of $9,288,241.36 and the forfeiture of various assets. In addition, she was ordered to pay $3,767,196 in restitution to her victims. 

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from various federal and local law enforcement partners throughout the country, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Toronto Police Service in Ontario, Canada. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Patrick Scruggs and Eric Gerard.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Perry Cortese's Co-Defendant Gets Maximum Federal Sentence

Catfishing, Conning Attys Gets Fraudster 40 Years, $13M Ding

Law360, Miami (October 13, 2017, 8:10 PM EDT) -- A Florida federal judge hit a Texas woman with a 40-year sentence and $13.1 million judgment Friday over alleged schemes in which she and a lawyer swindled money from dating-site users through "catfishing" and conned law firms into writing checks for bogus settlements.

U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday handed down the maximum statutory sentence to Priscilla Ann Ellis, 52, of Killeen, Texas, for her convictions of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering. He also ordered her to pay a money...

Cortese's sentencing is pending. 

Kerrville City Attorney Employment Agreement - Conflict of Interest, Breach of Fiduciary Duty??

The good ol' boy club that ran Kerrville until Bonnie White was elected mayor and city council members Glenn Andrew, Stephen Fine, Jack Pratt and Gary Stork were removed (Stork with a gunshot to the head, maybe self inflicted) are in an uproar because the current council didn't renew City Attorney Mike Hayes' employment contract. The contract, which he wrote, guarantees him perpetual employment, even if he is terminated for cause. At leas that's what Andrew and his friends at Kerrville United are claiming - that it is an "evergreen" contract,  and unless Hayes voluntarily resigns he has employment for life. If the city doesn't renew his contract, he is guaranteed a full year's salary of $150,000.

What competent, honest employer would enter such a blatantly lopsided agreement? What did the city get in return? Nothing!

If this is true, the city and citizens got a royal screwing when the contract was signed. If Hayes decides to sue to enforce the contract, I think a good defense lawyer can shred his case. To start with, there is the blatant conflict of interest. State Bar Disciplinary Rule 108 states:

A lawyer shall not enter into a business transaction with a client unless the transaction and terms on which the lawyer acquires the interest are fair and reasonable to the client.

A lawyer also has a fiduciary duty to the client, which means he puts the client's interest ahead of his own. If Hayes sues the city, I foresee a counterclaim for breach of fiduciary duty.  And if they're not protected by sovereign immunity, Pratt, Andrew, Fine and any other member of council who approved this scheme should be sued. 

Depositions would be fun - get them all under oath and ask some hard questions.