BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A former judge who turned his South Texas courtroom into a money-making operation was sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen sentenced former state district Judge Abel Limas, 59, on one count of racketeering in Brownsville, on the border with Mexico.
In a tearful statement Limas made to the court before he was sentenced, he said that he willingly had done everything the government asked of him because as a former police officer, lawyer and judge, he knew the "writing was on the wall."
"I believe, judge, that I righted this wrong," Limas said, while apologizing for the damage he had done to the justice system. "It wasn't a mistake. I knew what I was engaging in."
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen's sentence exceeded the 4½ years requested by prosecutors.
Limas drew the FBI's attention in late 2007 as he neared the end of his second term in office. Investigators intercepted some 40,000 phone calls and collected surveillance photos documenting how Limas had converted his courtroom into a criminal enterprise, collecting bribes and kickbacks totaling $257,000.
Limas pleaded guilty in 2011 and became the government's star witness in four related trials that shook Cameron County's justice system. He could have faced up to 20 years in prison but received credit for cooperation.
Former Cameron County District Attorney Yolanda De Leon, who was prosecuted in Limas' court by her successor in the DA's office, made an emotional statement before Limas' sentence was handed down. The charges against De Leon were later dropped.
"Every single judge that sits in the state court now is suspect," De Leon said. "That is the legacy he has left."
After graduating high school, then college, where he majored in criminal justice, Limas followed his father — who became a top detective in his 40-year career — into the police force. Then he took his father's advice and aimed for something higher.
"Since I was a kid I wanted to be a judge," Limas testified at one trial.
He went to law school in Houston, returned to Brownsville and began practicing criminal defense.