DA's office tight-lipped about ordering Villalobos trial transcripts

Transcript order by the Cameron County District Attorney's Office

A request by state prosecutors for transcripts of a key witness in the trial of former Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos is raising eyebrows.

The Cameron County District Attorney TMs Office filed a request for 596 pages of transcripts from the testimony and cross-examination of witness Oscar De La Fuente.

De La Fuente, a local attorney and former San Benito CISD school board member, testified for three days in the federal racketeering trial of Villalobos.

During his testimony, De La Fuente outlined several acts of public corruption and bribery.

Jurors convicted Villalobos of racketeering and other charges but acquitted him on an extortion charge dealing with one of De La Fuente TMs cases.

At $0.90 per page, the transcript order could cost taxpayers up to $536.40 based on estimates.

The Cameron County District Attorney TMs Office confirmed placing the order for the transcript but declined to comment why.

Defense Attorney

Action 4 News spoke to Harlingen-based attorney Heriberto Eddie Medrano about the transcript order.

Medrano represents De La Fuente and according to testimony in the Villalobos case, brokered a deal where De La Fuente got immunity from federal prosecution in exchange for testimony.

Under the deal, De La Fuente cannot practice law in federal court for three years but can continue do to so for state cases at the Cameron County Courthouse and elsewhere.

Medrano told Action 4 News that nobody has contacted him about his client or about the transcript order.

But the Harlingen-based defense attorney said that under the Rule Of Comity, immunity from federal prosecution often extends to immunity from state prosecution.

Medrano noted that De La Fuente TMs immunity deal does not protect people De La Fuente mentioned in his testimony.

Legal Expert

Harlingen-based attorney John Blaylock has been following the Villalobos case since the beginning.

Blaylock once worked as a prosecutor under Villalobos and once represented Austin-based attorney Eduardo Lucio for his role in the cash for court favors scandal.

Although it TMs not clear why the Cameron County District Attorney TMs Office requested the transcripts, Blaylock said they could be a valuable before a grand jury.

If you have a full confession, it TMs easy to prove in court, Blaylock said.

But many of the acts mentioned in De La Fuente TMs testimony, took place on or before 2008.

Under Texas state law, the statute of limitations for bribery and other similar felonies is three years and already expired.

Blaylock said that he only possible crime that could be left would be money laundering, which has a seven year statute of limitations.

The Harlingen attorney disagreed with Medrano saying that the Rule Of Comity would not uphold with most judges to protect De La Fuente from prosecution in state district court.

Other Transcript Orders

The Cameron County District Attorney TMs Office is not the only one to request copies of transcripts from the Villalobos trial.

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen ordered federal prosecutors and agents to notify the State Bar of Texas and others about multiple ethical violations by judges, lawyers and others connected to the case.

Federal court records show that the State Bar of Texas requested transcripts of testimony by 22 people who testified in the Villalobos trial.

Among the transcript requests are those of former 404th State District Judge Abel Limas, Armando Villalobos himself and 13 attorneys: Greg Gladden, Tracy Franklin, Rebecca RuBane, Julie Allen, Al Padilla, Rene B. Gonzalez, Charles Chuck Mattingly, Jose Joe Valle, Jonathan Gracia, Rick Canales, Lawrence J. Rabb, Leonardo Rincones, Jr. and Gaby Garcia.

The State Bar of Texas also requested transcripts of testimony of witnesses Max Wayman, Cesar Mendez, Mario Hernandez and Monica Gracia as well as those of former Texas Ranger Rolando Castaeda, federal agent Keith Steves, FBI agent Mark Gripka.

Court records show that Brownsville defense attorney Rigoberto Flores also requested a copy of transcripts for Oscar De La Fuente.

Flores is one of two attorneys defending Austin-based attorney Eduardo Lucio for his role in the cash for court favors scandal.

Action 4 News tried to reach Flores for comment by telephone and e-mail but did not receive a reply.

Legal observers believe he is trying to use the De La Fuente TMs testimony in the Villalobos trial to prepare for his client TMs trial.