AUSTIN, Texas — A man convicted of laundering money for the Zetas drug cartel worked with his son and a business associate to try to bribe the federal judge who handed down his sentence, authorities said Friday in announcing charges against the three men.
Franceso Colorado Cessa, son Francisco Colorado Cessa Jr., and business associate Ramon Segura Flores are accused of conspiring to offer a $1.2 million bribe to Judge Sam Sparks in an attempt to get a lenient sentence for Colorado Cessa in the money laundering case. Colorado Cessa was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison – the maximum possible – for his role in spending nearly $25 million to buy and sell 500 racehorses to launder drug money.
Cessa Jr. and Flores appeared before a federal magistrate Friday. The men did not enter a plea and defense attorney Mike DeGeurin, who is representing all three men, declined to comment on the new charges.
All three were charged Thursday, just hours after a sentencing hearing in which Colorado Cessa's attorneys introduced extensive documentary and videotaped evidence – including an hour of testimony from Segura – to demonstrate why their client should get leniency for the money laundering.
Sparks rejected all of the defendant's arguments and gave Colorado Cessa the maximum sentence for his role in the scheme, which was led by Jose Trevino Morales, the brother of the Zetas cartel's two leaders. There was no indication any other defendant in the horse racing case was involved in the attempt to bribe Sparks, who was not involved in the sting that resulted in the bribery charges.
According to the federal complaint, Colorado Cessa, his son and Segura began discussing plans to bribe Sparks for a reduced sentence in phone calls with Colorado Cessa at the Bastrop County Jail. FBI agents began following Cessa Jr. and Segura as they sought someone to offer Sparks $1 million, the complaint filed Thursday by FBI Agent Robert Mundy said.
A confidential source made contact with Segura and introduced him to two undercover agents, an FBI agent and an Austin police officer, who said they could deliver the bribe. But they said it needed to be $1.2 million and include a $25,000 fee for the undercover agents. One of the agents said he could deliver a $250,000 down payment to the judge during a game of golf.
Cessa Jr. relayed the plan to his father by telephone and they agreed to go forward with it, the complaint said.
Segura and Cessa Jr. demanded a signal from the judge, through use of a code word during sentencing, to prove that he had accepted the bribe before they would make a down payment. The undercover agents suggested "golf," a word Sparks did not use while sentencing Colorado Cessa.
During sentencing Thursday, Colorado Cessa testified that he had no choice but to participate in the scheme because the Zetas cartel was one of the most powerful in Mexico and he needed to protect his family and business.
Segura testified that the money used in the scheme came from legitimate operations.
At the end of his testimony, prosecutor Michelle Fernald asked him, "Have you ever been involved with Colorado Cessa in a criminal activity?"
"No," Segura replied.
"I remind you that you are under oath," she replied, and Segura again replied, "I know. No."
Fernald then smiled as she turned away. A few hours later FBI agents arrested Segura and Cessa Jr. at their hotel, and Colorado Cessa at the Bastrop County Jail. Fernald was at the hearing Friday afternoon.
"The latest allegation, if proven, demonstrates that individuals associated with the most violent drug cartel believe that they can corrupt what we hold as the bedrock of American justice - the United States Courts," said U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman said in a statement. "We are one step ahead of them and if they continue to try to function as they do in Mexico, we will find them, we will stop them, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure that they are punished to the full extent of the law."
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