SHERMAN – An Austin attorney known for his practice as the “DWI Dude” was sentenced Monday to approximately 15 1/2 years in prison for hitting Colombian drug traffickers for millions of dollars on false promises to do something had shaken off their charges go away.
64-year-old Jamie Balagia was convicted by a jury of federal corruption allegations in October 2019 after a two-week trial.
Balagia, a veteran Austin attorney who has made a name for himself defending individuals charged with drunk driving, has been found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to commit wire fraud .
He was also found guilty of attempting to break the Kingpin Act for accepting money from men identified by the government as major drug traffickers without official government approval.
Jamie Balagia(William Luther / San Antonio Express News)
U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant ruled Monday that the 200+ pages of character letters about Balagia he received were the most he’d ever seen in a case. The judge said he “struggled” with his verdict but found that Balagia was an official of the court.
“A message needs to be sent for future lawyers,” Mazzant said.
Balagia struggled with up to 30 years in prison.
Gaylon Riddels, his defense attorney, had asked the judge for parole and said the recommended range of guidelines of up to 25 years was “absurd”. Riddels said his client lost everything during the ordeal, including his wife, who died of cancer.
He called Balagia “homeless, destitute and broken”.
Balagia’s family and other supporters packed the courtroom, with some being flown in from across the country. When he turned to the judge, Balagia, his long ponytail, a little grayer, told the judge that he believed in justice and fairness, but also in mercy. And he said a long sentence was “crueler than just”.
Still maintaining his innocence, Balagia asked Mazzant to take his age into account, noting that men in his family are rarely older than 70.
“I’m not a threat to a community,” he told the judge.
However, US assistant attorney Heather Rattan said Balagia was “one of us” who “mocked” the US judicial system.
“He’s presented our justice system as being for sale,” she said.
Prosecutors said Balagia and his cohorts defrauded Colombian drug traffickers by about $ 1.5 million by claiming they were using their connections to pay US officials to have their cases dropped.
Balagia ran for the Texas Attorney General on a libertarian marijuana legalization platform in 2014. He called himself “DWI Dude” and once came to a hearing in Plano with a Winnebago who had his picture and the advertising slogan “Busted? Call the guy!”
The case involved three men identified by agents as the largest cocaine producers in the world who represented a vital link between Colombia’s cocaine fields and violent Mexican drug cartels. They reportedly used submarines to carry the cocaine and hired guerrillas to protect their drug labs hidden in the mountains.
Balagia was arrested in 2017 after showing up at Collin County Jail to meet with a client believed to be one of Colombia’s drug traffickers.
His two co-defendants are serving federal prison terms in this case. Chuck Morgan, 83, his investigator, and Bibiana Correa Perea, 46, a Colombian attorney, both testified during the trial. Morgan had previously worked as a federal informant for years, according to court records.
Jamie Balagia (left) and Chuck Morgan (left) meet suspected drug king Segundo Segura in Colombia’s La Picota prison in December 2015 to discuss what federal prosecutors are calling an illegal shakedown. The picture was captured from a secret videotape that Segura recorded from the meeting.(N / A / US law firm)
“This defendant and his group defrauded drug traffickers – some of the biggest drug dealers in the world,” said former US attorney Joe Brown at the time. “Thankfully, those drug dealers decided to make him the FBI instead of dealing with it any other way. It is important for the American justice system that we prosecute those who claim that the justice system is for sale.
Balagia took the stand in his own defense during the trial, telling the jury that he had been betrayed and manipulated by Morgan and Perea in his first international drug conspiracy cases. He also said he does not understand that accepting cash payments in small deposits and in bags left in parking lots is considered money laundering.
Balagia is the second Texas attorney in a decade to be jailed for rocking drug dealers by claiming he had contacts in Washington, DC who could pull strings for treasure deals or setting up charges.
Abraham Moses Fisch, 62, a former Houston criminal lawyer, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2015 for disability and tax fraud in a case very similar to that of the Balagia. Fisch defrauded his clients between 2006 and 2011 by persuading them to fire their attorneys and pay him over $ 1 million for “guaranteed” layoffs or other favorable outcomes, prosecutors said.
One of Fisch’s victims was a Mexican drug dealer who faced life in prison but was dealt a deal for testifying against Fisch during the trial. And like Balagia, Fisch had conspired with his investigator, a longtime FBI informant, to enforce the plan, according to court records.
Balagia worked as a police officer in Austin from 1979 to 1990. Then he reinvented himself as a quirky Austin cowboy lawyer. or as his lawyer called him, a “dumb” cowboy with “long hippie hair” who “drives a Scooby-Doo bus”. ”
He has been a licensed attorney in Texas since 1992 and has a second office in San Antonio.
Morgan recruited him to take on the cases of three Colombians who were indicted in Sherman in 2013 and awaiting extradition to the US according to court judgments.
Hermes Casanova Ordonez and two brothers, Segundo Villota Segura and Aldemar Villota Segura, were charged, along with more than a dozen others, with a major cocaine conspiracy, according to court records.
Perea’s job was to get an American lawyer to help Segundo Segura. Perea, who handled extradition cases, recommended Morgan and Morgan recommended Balagia, court records show.
Perea, known as “Bibi,” hired Morgan for the job because court documents indicate that he had a long history of working for US agencies such as the FBI, DEA, and Homeland Security Investigations.
In 2014, Balagia, Perea and Morgan told the three Colombians they could reduce their charges or release them for a seven-figure sum, court documents show. They said they would use some of the money to bribe “high profile” US officials, according to government evidence.
The U.S. Paul Brown Federal Building courthouse is located in Sherman, Texas, where Jamie Balagia was sentenced to federal prison on May 3, 2021. (Ashley Landis / Employee Photographer)
Balagia met with Segundo Segura in La Picota Prison in Bogota, Colombia, in December 2015, along with Perea and Morgan, the indictment reads. During the taped meeting, Segundo Segura pressed her for details.
“Now Segundo, you know I would never expose anyone,” Morgan told him. “If we get into it, it will be very chaotic. As you know, the lawyer has to stay very, very clean. “
Balagia said during the meeting that anonymity is important and, “If I do it the way we do … I can sometimes close my ears when I have to and it protects us all.”
Segundo’s brother Aldemar has been extradited to the United States and agreed to work with authorities investigating Balagia and his staff, prosecutors said.
Jamie Balagia called himself the “DWI guy” because of his expertise and once came to a hearing in Plano with a Winnebago who had his image and the advertising slogan “Busted? Call the guy! “(Justice Department)
Aldemar Segura met with Balagia and Morgan in Collin County Jail in October 2016 to discuss payments, court records show. The meeting was recorded. Segura persuaded the couple to also meet with their accountant and personal agent, who was an undercover FBI agent, court records show.
In November 2016, the undercover FBI agent met with Morgan at a North Texas restaurant to make a $ 300,000 installment. Morgan was arrested while taking a suitcase full of cash from the agent’s vehicle, records show.
Aldemar Segura and Ordonez pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and received long prison terms. But because they worked with the authorities on the government’s criminal case against Balagia, they can benefit from reduced sentences.