A federal grand jury Tuesday indicted state Sen. Carlos Uresti on multiple counts of fraud, money laundering and related charges alleging that he took part in an investment Ponzi scheme involving a now-defunct oil and gas company.
A second indictment accused the San Antonio Democrat of participating in a separate 10-year bribery and kickback scheme over a medical services contract for a Reeves County jail complex.
Uresti faces up to 20 years in prison on the most serious charges, said the announcement from U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin Jr. and FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs of the San Antonio division.
An almost 20-year member of the Legislature, including a decades as a senator, Uresti was to appear before a U.S magistrate in San Antonio at 11 a.m. Wednesday — the same time the Texas Senate was scheduled to gavel into session.
Uresti said he will plead not guilty.
“The charges against me are groundless, and I look forward to proving my innocence in a court of law at the appropriate time,” he said in a written statement.
In February, federal investigators raided Uresti’s law office in San Antonio in search of unspecified documents. At the time, Uresti acknowledged that the agents were seeking information related to FourWinds Logistics, a San Antonio company where he had previously served as general counsel.
Uresti also pledged that he and his employees would cooperate with investigators.
According to the first indictment delivered by the federal grand jury in San Antonio, Uresti and two FourWinds officials developed a Ponzi scheme to market fracking sand for oil production, taking part in the hydraulic fracturing boom that was opening new oil fields to production.
The indictment accused Uresti, FourWinds CEO Stanley Bates and FourWinds consultant Gary Cain of using money from more recent investors to pay earlier investors and for personal expenses.
The three men also were accused of making “false statements and representations to solicit investors in FourWinds,” the U.S. Justice Department said in a news release.
Bates and Cain also were scheduled to appear with Uresti before U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Bemporad in San Antonio on Wednesday.
The second indictment accused Uresti and Vernon Farthing III of Lubbock of one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, the Justice Department said.
According to the indictment, Uresti and Farthing conspired with others “to pay and accept bribes” from January 2006 to September 2016 so Farthing’s company could obtain a medical services contract for the Reeves County Correctional Center.
The indictment alleged that Farthing paid Uresti $10,000 a month as a marketing consultant, with half of the money going to an unnamed Reeves County official for his support in awarding the contract to Farthing’s company.
Between the two indictments, Uresti faces five counts of wire fraud, two counts of securities fraud, two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery, engaging in monetary transactions with property derived from specified illegal activity and acting as an unregistered securities broker.
The investigation was led by the FBI’s Public Corruption Task Force, which included investigators from the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Peace Corps’ Office of Inspector General, Durbin said.
Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said the news would likely slow down whatever legislative proposals Uresti was pushing.
“Obviously his being under indictment creates the prospect of ineffectiveness as long as there’s a perception of wrongdoing,” Larson, whose district overlaps with Uresti’s in the northwest portion of San Antonio, told the American-Statesman.
The case has been the subject of intense speculation in San Antonio for months, Larson said.
Uresti’s district is vast, stretching west of San Antonio over 35,000 square miles and 17 counties. At various times, Rep. Tracy O. King, D-Uvalde, Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, and Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, have been mentioned as potential candidates to succeed Uresti, Larson said.
King said it was a “sad day,” adding that his “thoughts and prayers are with Sen. Uresti and his family.”
Tom Mechler, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, said Tuesday’s indictments cast an unflattering light on state Democrats.
“Nobody should be surprised to see that crooked Texas Democrat Carlos Uresti has been indicted by a grand jury,” Mechler said in a written statement. “As I’ve said before, there is an unprecedented amount of corruption among Texas Democrats, and Senator Uresti’s indictment only further proves that they are clearly incapable of being entrusted with governing in the state of Texas.”
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