Two men are facing charges of conspiracy to bribe a public official after authorities said they attempted to offer more than $1 million to the Austin federal judge presiding over the sentencings of nearly 20 people convicted in a multimillion-dollar money laundering operation led by the deadly Zetas cartel.
Francisco Colorado Cessa Jr., son of defendant Francisco Colorado Cessa, and Ramon Segura Flores, Colorado’s friend and business partner who testified at his sentencing hearing Thursday, met with undercover agents at least twice in August and “were given a fabricated story” that the judge would accept the money, according to a federal indictment unsealed Friday. The men agreed to pay the sum in return for a reduced penalty for Colorado but never came up with the cash, the records state.
Colorado Jr., 25, and Segura, 52, who were arrested Thursday afternoon, made their first court appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin. The judge ordered the men, who are not U.S. citizens, held without bond until their detention hearing in two weeks.
If found guilty, they could each be sentenced to up five years in prison.
Colorado, 52, also is implicated in the case and could face additional time. He is one of four businessmen convicted of money laundering conspiracy charges in May after a four-week federal trial in which prosecutors said he and the other defendants laundered drug proceeds for the Zetas through the U.S. quarter horse industry.
Colorado, a prominent oilman from the Mexican state of Veracruz, and José Treviño Morales, 46, brother of two principal leaders within the organization, were each sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison for their roles in the operation.
Outside the courtroom Friday, U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman said that U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks hadn’t been involved in the investigation and had been unaware of the foiled attempt to bribe him.
“From the beginning in this case, we have indicated that this is all about keeping the corrupting influence of the cartel out of the United States,” Pitman said. “This is just another example of how the cartels believe they can get away with whatever they want — and another example of how we will stop them.”
FBI officials said they first became aware of the payoff attempt in early July through a tip from an informant and eventually began reviewing jail calls between Colorado and his son, which revealed that the three men were hatching a plan to try to bribe the judge, according to court records.
The informant also led special agents to a friend who met with undercover investigators at a South Austin coffee shop in July and said that he was “representing the Colorado Cessa family and was trying to find a local attorney to bribe the judge,” the filings state.
The friend, whose criminal history includes drug and weapon possession arrests, later agreed to cooperate with authorities to avoid charges in the bribery conspiracy and introduced undercover officers to Segura, law enforcement officials said.
An Austin police officer and an FBI agent, both undercover, met with Segura on Aug. 13 at a Starbuck’s on East Ben White Boulevard, according to the indictment. The court records say that in the meeting, which was audio recorded, the police officer gave a false story that he was only sentenced to 36 months on a drug charge after his “brother-in-law” — the FBI agent — spoke with Sparks.
Segura was said to have agreed to work with the men at a later date, telling them, “We are ready.”
At another encounter Aug. 18, the undercover police officer and FBI agent negotiated with Segura and Colorado Jr. about the price of the bribe and told the men the judge would accept the money in a golf bag in the trunk of a car while playing golf with the FBI agent, according to the indictment.
Minutes after the authorities had left, Colorado called his son from jail, and Colorado Jr. is heard saying that he and Segura had come up with a “strategy of playing a game of golf. … That’s the way they put it,” the records say.
Colorado Jr. is quoted as telling his father that he would take care of “all those details,” when asked whether police could intervene. His father is reported to have told him, “Put a lot of effort into it.”
But law enforcement officials said Segura and Colorado Jr. kept holding the undercover investigators off, saying Colorado’s accounts had been frozen due to his money laundering charges. Pitman said the two men were arrested outside the federal courthouse after the sentencing hearings Thursday.
In Colorado’s sentencing hearing that same afternoon, Segura had taken the stand in defense of Colorado, saying he helped the defendant found his environmental cleanup company, ADT Petroservicios, in 2001. Segura said he reviewed each and every transaction of cash coming out of Colorado’s business and discovered it came from legitimate sources, primarily government contracts from Pemex, Mexico’s government-controlled oil company.
On Friday, six more people were sentenced in the case, including Austin horse trainer Eusevio Huitron, who received eight years in prison, and Treviño’s wife, Zulema Treviño, and daughter Alexandra Treviño, each of whom pleaded guilty to lesser penalties and were handed three and two years probation, respectively.
In the hearing on the bribery charge, Colorado Jr., an industrial engineering student at the University of Mexico, and Segura appeared in the same button-up shirts and slacks they had been wearing upon their arrest. When Austin asked if Segura had read the affidavit, he responded, “I really do not know U.S. law.”
Later asked if he understood the allegations, he replied that he did.