With an Oct. 23 court date looming, a criminal defense attorney is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that disqualified him from representing State Sen. Carlos Uresti in a fraud case that some have likened to a Ponzi scheme.
Attorney Mikal Watts was disqualified by Magistrate Judge Henry Bemporad on July 10, saying Watts had a conflict of interest because he previously represented Denise Cantu, a woman identified as a victim in the case against Uresti.
Some background on the potential conflict from the San Antonio Current:
Cantu (is) a Harlingen woman whose exploding car tire caused a 2010 wreck that killed her 13-year-old daughter, 4-year-old son and two friends. After winning her criminal case against Ford, Uresti convinced Cantu to invest $900,000 of her settlement money into FourSands. She lost all but $100,000 — while Uresti pocketed a $27,000 commission for her recruitment.
Uresti then did one more favor: He referred Cantu’s civil case to fellow San Antonio lawyer Mikal Watts, the same lawyer who Uresti chose to represent him in his current federal case. Which is where the case begins to tangle. Cantu is one of plaintiffs suing Uresti in this case, meaning Watts would eventually have to defend one client against another former client.
The judge, however, said it appeared unlikely Watts would be a witness at Uresti’s pending trial, according to KSAT ABC-12.
From the San Antonio Express-News:
Watts’ appeal paperwork… is directed at Senior U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra, who must now decide whether Bemporad made the right call. Prosecutors have not filed a response.
The paperwork said that because of Watts’ “complete immersion” in unrelated BP oil spill litigation, his role in Cantu’s wrongful-death case “was only tertiary at best, as he took only a single technical deposition in the case, and did not participate in the preparation for, nor appear at, Cantu’s deposition.
In any case, Watts and Uresti will be together for Uresti’s other criminal case.
Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat, was also indicted in a separate case for allegedly using his consulting business to split $850,000 in bribes with Jimmy Galindo, a former county judge in West Texas’ Reeves County. Galindo has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and failure to file a 2013 tax return.
That trial is scheduled for trial in May.
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.