Uresti fraud trial opens with talk of money and sex

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(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SAN ANTONIO — Jurors in the criminal trial of state Sen. Carlos Uresti say they will put aside allegations of extramarital sex in order to render a verdict on fraud charges against the Democratic lawmaker.

The veteran legislator and co-defendant Gary Cain were indicted last year on 22 counts of wire fraud and money laundering involving FourWinds Logistics, a bankrupt oil field services company.

Their trial begins Monday in U.S. District Court in San Antonio.

During jury selection on Thursday, defense attorney Tab Turner asked, “Does anybody have a problem sitting on a jury where there are going to be allegations of extramarital sex?”

One prospective juror who said she had “a problem with infidelity” was dismissed from consideration. The 16 seated jurors, including four alternates, did not indicate they had any such qualms.

Denise Cantu, a key witness in the case against Uresti, 54, told investigators she had sexual relations with the legislator. Uresti, who is married, was Cantu’s attorney in a wrongful death case involving two of her children and later enticed the 38-year-old Harlingen woman to invest the proceeds in FourWinds.

Cantu reportedly lost all but $100,000 of her $900,000 investment in the company.

Cantu, who has had her own run-ins with the law, also allegedly engaged in sexual relations with FourWinds CEO Stan Bates. Initially a co-defendant with Uresti and Cain in the fraud trial, Bates pleaded out of the case and is now listed as a prosecution witness.

District Judge David Alan Ezra has ruled that Cantu’s criminal record, unrelated to the FourWinds matter, cannot be admitted into evidence. “There will be no character assassination,” he said.

Uresti has denied Cantu’s claims of a sexual relationship and called her a liar. But his attorneys have also said having sex with a client does not violate rules of professional conduct.

Judge Ezra noted the two-sided defense.

“You’re almost going to have to say, ‘Well, we deny he slept with her on multiple occasions. However, if he did’ (it was not prohibited). That really throws water on the denial,” the judge said.

Turned responded, “We’re certainly not claiming that’s the greatest argument.”

“No, it isn’t,” Ezra said. “The jury could say … if he’s really denying it, that he would deny it. He wouldn’t be going to all this trouble to argue it was OK.”

Turner later suggested that “all this #MeToo stuff going on around the country” has put sexual behavior front and center.

Prosecutors are expected to portray Uresti as a financially strapped politician who used his position to lure investors into FourWinds. Serving as the company’s outside general counsel and escrow agent, he never invested himself, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

At least eight of the 90 prospective jurors were dismissed from the jury pool for expressing the belief that public officials should be held to higher standards of moral and ethical behavior.

Kenric Ward can be reached at [email protected]

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