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      Opening arguments heard in Armando Villalobos trial

      Armando Villalobos File Photo

      Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys painted two very different pictures of former Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos.

      But it will be up to a jury to decide which one is correct.

      Villalobos appeared for his racketeering trial before U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen on Monday morning.

      The seven men and seven women of the jury are expected to hear testimony over two weeks time.

      Opening arguments for the racketeering trial for Villalobos started at 9:18 a.m. Monday.


      Lead federal prosecutor Michael Wynne told jurors that Villalobos abused the office he was elected to.

      Wynne stated that Villalobos ran a "racketeering" enterprise to enrich himself and others.

      "The enterprise was the Cameron County District Attorney's Office," Wynne said in open court.

      Wynne said prosecutors will outline three cases where they believe Villalobos got kickbacks for legal favors.

      The three cases include a murder trial and two money laundering cases.

      Wynne told jurors that Villalobos was paid at least $80,000 dollars in one of the cases.

      Prosecutors contend that Villalobos gave unfair treatment to those he took bribes from.

      "You have a district attorney on retainer," Wynne said in court.

      Defense Attorneys

      Lead defense attorney Joel Androphy started his opening arguments with a bold statement.

      "I am proud to represent Armando Villalobos," Androphy told jurors.

      Androphy said Villalobos is a married man with two children who never forgot where he came from.

      Villalobos graduated from San Benito High School and later the University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University Law School.

      The Houston-based defense attorney said Villalobos reorganized the district attorney's office creating several new programs.

      "This is not the greedy person the prosecution is trying to portray but rather a caring person," Androphy said.

      Androphy said that bank records and his client's lifestyle show that Villalobos did not participate in a scheme of personal enrichment.

      The Houston-based defense attorney used Spanish to ask where is the bribe without the silver.

      "Where is the mordida without the plata," Androphy asked jurors in court.

      Oscar De La Fuente

      Androphy took the time to single out a single witness in his opening arguments: San Benito-based attorney Oscar De La Fuente.

      De La Fuente is a witness for prosecutors against Villalobos.

      Androphy contends that De La Fuente is getting special treatment from prosecutors.

      De La Fuente was the defense attorney in the two money laundering cases and is expected to testify that he and Villalobos spilt the profits.

      Androphy told jurors that De La Fuente is not being prosecuted in the "cash for court favors" scandal.

      According to Androphy, De La Fuente was only disbarred from federal cases for three years and had several cases with federal prosecutor Angel Castro.

      "Oscar De La Fuente was never charged and got off scot free despite admission of corruption for years," Androphy said in court.

      Trial Proceedings

      In addition for former 404th State District Judge Abel Limas, prosecutors are expected to call De La Fuente and former attorney Joe Valle as witnesses against Villalobos.

      Valle, who pleaded guilty to his role in the Abel Limas "cash for court favors" scandal, already finished serving a one year and one day federal prison sentence.

      Testimony for the trial is expected to last 10 business days or about two weeks.

      Judge Hanen ordered jurors not to discuss the case with anyone.

      Jurors are even prohibited from saying "good morning" to defense attorneys or prosecutors.