Pubdate: Sun, 07 Dec 2008
Source: Monitor, The (McAllen, TX)
Copyright: 2008 The Monitor
Author: Jeremy Roebuck
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


Temptation Of Corruption Also Lurks Within Legal Profession

Joel Carcano Jr. stands apart from his 12 co-defendants in an ongoing 
federal case against one of Texas' most violent prison gangs.

A college-educated paralegal for a McAllen law firm, he appears out 
of place when lined up with the tattooed gang members, convicted 
felons and other associates named in the same nine-count indictment.

The others stand accused of a slew of murders, drug smuggling 
attempts and kidnappings over the past eight years - all undertaken 
to protect the Texas Syndicate's criminal interests in the Rio Grande Valley.

But Carcano never directly participated in any of these violent acts. 
Still, prosecutors argue, he should be held just as responsible for 
their results.

According to his attorney, Carcano is accused of providing the gang 
confidential court information that led to the slaying of a federal 
witness last year.

While the paralegal has maintained his innocence and the government 
has so far remained silent on what it believes may have prompted the 
alleged leak of information, the case highlights a threat that has 
received scant attention amid ongoing efforts to dismantle South 
Texas' largest criminal organizations.

For years, border law enforcement officials have feared that members 
of their own ranks could be swayed by the allure of money offered by 
criminal organizations.

The relatively low pay local officers receive and their proximity to 
the border entice a handful each year to go from working for the 
taxpayers to working for the traffickers.

But there is much less discussion of the same temptations lurking 
within the halls of justice.

A cadre of attorneys, probation officers, paralegals, grand jurors 
and court staff has access to sensitive intelligence for which groups 
such as the Texas Syndicate or the Tamaulipas-based Gulf Cartel are 
willing to pay highly.

"There's a lot of money in the drug business," said Jack Wolfe, a 
criminal defense attorney who worked as a federal prosecutor in the 
early '90s. "Sometimes, I think the temptation may be too much for 
some people."


In October, Mexican authorities charged five members of an elite 
organized crime unit within that country's attorney general's office 
with accepting $450,000 in bribes a month from Mexico's powerful 
Beltran-Leyva drug cartel.

In exchange for the cash, the attorneys and staff purportedly leaked 
information about ongoing investigations and witnesses who were 
cooperating with government probes.

Their arrests sent shockwaves through Mexico - a country long 
conditioned to expect corruption within law enforcement circles.

Similar instances of malfeasance among legal professionals north of 
the border have remained rare, but a small group of lawyers, 
probation officers and court staff have admitted over the past decade 
to accepting money from the very people they should be working to convict.

In April, a probation officer working in McAllen's federal courthouse 
pleaded guilty to taking $5,000 in bribes to leak sealed documents to 
an undercover agent posing as a member of a Mexico-based smuggling 

According to court records, Juan De Dios Muniz Jr. knew the fake 
criminal enterprise hoped to learn who was cooperating with 
authorities against the group. He is currently serving a three-year 
prison term.

A jury convicted an assistant district attorney in Laredo in 1999 for 
accepting thousands of dollars to make drug cases go away.

Jurors, too, are not immune from the lure of gang and cartel cash.

Jose Luis Snell, a juror selected for the case of two convicted drug 
smugglers in 1997, volunteered to help sway the verdict in exchange 
for a $10,000 payment from the defendants' families. When he failed 
to secure the promised not-guilty decision, the families turned him in.

"It's always been a bit of an issue, but never a chronic problem," 
said Eric Reed, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted a 
similar jury-tampering case. "But situations like these are always a 
concern - especially where violence is already a big part of the allegations."


The case of paralegal Joel Carcano may be the most unclear at this 
point. He has maintained his innocence since his arrest and intends 
to take his case before a jury next year.

But already his alleged misdeeds have had the most serious consequences.

After a grand jury indicted several members of the Texas Syndicate 
last year on federal racketeering and organized crime charges, 
members of the gang scrambled to find out how investigators had 
learned so much about them.

The unusually detailed indictment linked members to six murders and 
multiple drug deals over the course of nearly a decade. For the 
tight-knit group formed in the '70s in the California prison system, 
snitching is the vilest form of treachery.

Prosecutors allege Carcano helped the Texas Syndicate identify one of 
its own members as a source of the information, said his attorney 
Ralph R. Martinez.

Carcano worked for a law firm defending gang member Marcelino "Mars" 
Rodriguez Torres, when the man opted to cooperate with investigators.

Rodriguez's body turned up in July 2007, shot and burned beyond 
recognition in a field south of Edcouch, weeks after his decision to 
turn federal witness.

But Martinez maintains his client never willingly gave up anything to 
gang members.

"He was manipulated and used," he said of Carcano. "He's not in a 
gang. He's college-educated. He's got small children. He's not the 
type of person that's going to get himself involved with these types 
of people."

Even if Carcano accidentally identified Rodriguez as a witness, 
Martinez said, the Syndicate could have learned this information just 
as easily by reviewing public documents.

"It was all spelled out in the plea agreement," he said, referring to 
the document that offered Rodriguez a reduced sentence in a separate 
criminal case in exchange for his cooperation with authorities.


Much about Carcano's case remains unknown. But it is easy to see how 
some legal professionals can be led from the straight path, said 
Reed, the former federal prosecutor.

"It begins as sort of an innocent relationship - maybe at a backyard 
barbecue or over drinks," he said. "And once you've done maybe a 
little favor for them, they own you."

Such temptations can be harder to avoid in a region where the 
law-abiding and the lawbreakers cross paths every day at grocery 
stores, restaurants, schools and family functions.

Protecting against this type of wrongdoing before it occurs is nearly 

Defense attorneys and their staffs need access to witness lists, 
incriminating intelligence and the identities of some cooperating 
informants to effectively represent their clients.

Probation officers collect minute details of a convict's background 
to adequately assess his risk to the community.

And sensitive information is essential for a prosecutor to even begin 
building a criminal case.

Despite the risks, the vast majority of these professionals conduct 
themselves according to a strict set of personal and legal 
guidelines, said former defense attorney Wolfe. And no amount of 
precaution will stop those who have already chosen to stray.

"As long as I've been in this profession, there have always been bad 
apples," he said. "They haven't invented the machine yet where you 
can dip someone in and it will tell you exactly how they're going to act.

"All we can do is background checks, emphasize the law, screen these 
employees and hope it works out for the best."
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