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People want their lawyer to be bold. Someone who is unafraid to take on anyone or anything, from fighting big, corrupt organizations to the criminal justice system itself. But taking on both by breaking the law and scamming drug cartels? Bold isn't the only word for that.
Yet that is what well-known Texas DWI lawyer Jamie Belagia did, accepting $1.5 million in cash to bribe U.S. officials to get criminal charges against accused drug traffickers dropped, a jury decided on October 29. While Belagia had no intention of attempting to bribe U.S. officials, the transactions violated the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, among other federal laws.
The criminal charges involve his work defending three Columbian drug traffickers who brought cocaine to the U.S. According to the charges, Belagia worked with a private investigator and a Columbian attorney in the scheme to defraud his clients of millions. Both of his co-conspirators have already been convicted.
According to the FBI, the drug dealers themselves informed them of Belagia's scam. Two of his three clients, who are already convicted, may be eligible for an earlier release due to their cooperation with the investigation.
That's one way to serve your clients.
Belagia, in addition to his successful practice, ran for Texas attorney general in 2014 on a platform of legalizing marijuana. He is also a former Texas police officer. He often marketed himself as the “DWI Dude" and served clients in both San Antonio and Austin.
Despite the government's stance at trial that Belagia acted without the knowledge of U.S. officials, his defense first proposed that, as a Vietnam veteran who flew for the CIA, he was acting secretly on behalf of the U.S. government to bring in known members of drug cartels to the U.S. While Belagia did, in fact, fly on CIA mission in Vietnam, the judge did not allow that information to be introduced as evidence at trial. So, the jury was unaware of his history, and probably will be until a true crime podcast revisits the case.
Belagia, who is eligible to receive up to 30 years in prison, has yet to be sentenced. His defense lawyers told the Dallas Morning-News an appeal is likely.