Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Armando Villalobos

CD34 candidate Villalobos busted by the feds

This is not the sort of news one wants to make as a candidate.

Armando Villalobos

Cameron County District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos vowed Monday to fight a federal indictment filed against him and his former law partner Eduardo “Eddie” Lucio.

Villalobos, 44, who is also seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination to represent the newly created Congressional District 34, said that in his seven years as district attorney he has always acted in the best interest of the people of Cameron County and “I have never attempted to use this office for my own financial gain.”

A federal grand jury handed up a 12-count indictment against Villalobos and Lucio, 43, charging them with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and one count of conspiracy to violate the RICO Act.

Lucio is not related to the state legislators of the same name.

Villalobos was also charged with seven counts of extortion and three counts of honest services fraud. Lucio is charged with three counts of extortion and two counts of honest services fraud.

Their case is tied to that of former 404th state District Judge Abel C. Limas, who last year pleaded guilty to racketeering. His sentencing is scheduled for later this year.

[…]

Attorney Joel Androphy of Houston and Norton A. Colvin Jr. of Brownsville represent Villalobos.

“This is (only) a piece of paper,” Androphy said of the indictment against Villalobos, adding that the defense has not been given the opportunity to respond to it, to rebut allegations or to speak to the grand jury.

“It is one side of the story. He will be vindicated,” Androphy added.

Colvin said that Villalobos, “like any citizen, is presumed innocent. We really believe that as this develops, he will be shown to be innocent.”

Attorney John T. Blaylock of Harlingen, who represents Lucio, said, “My client is innocent. The indictment was obtained by using people the government coerced into saying things. It’s a very weak indictment.”

Blaylock said he looks forward to trying the case. “It’s going to be kind of fun. It’s going to fall apart. They haven’t done their homework,” Blaylock said.

Blaylock maintained that, “we’re here because the government has its dancing chickens” — who are trying to protect family members from indictment — adding that as was done in carnivals, as the heat on a hot plate was turned up, the chickens dance.

“They’ve had a lot of heat, and now they are performing,” Blaylock said of Limas and other defendants who are cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Well, we’ll see about that. Not surprisingly, some people are calling on him to resign.

County Judge Carlos Cascos, a Republican serving his second term, said the issue is not partisan politics, rather a question of whether the accused district attorney can operate an “effective and efficient” office while facing a 34-page federal indictment alleging years of corruption.

“I don’t believe he can,” Cascos said Tuesday. “It’s tough. That particular office that deals with all kinds of crimes at different levels whether criminal or domestic – you got to focus.”

Cascos added that the indictment could cast a pall on the department.

“It could bring into suspect some of the cases that may be brought up, maybe some of the prior cases,” he said. “I mean, I think defense lawyers are looking at some of these cases and seeing if anything may have looked kind of … quirky.”

Hard to argue with the reasoning, though if his lawyers really can back up their big talk then I can understand why he wouldn’t resign. For what it’s worth, Jerry Eversole didn’t resign as County Commissioner until nine months after he’d been indicted by the feds, not long before he pleaded out. Of course, any time you have to cite Jerry Eversole as a reason for doing something, the odds are pretty good you’re doing it wrong.

What a mess. The FBI’s press release is here, and a copy of the indictment is here. That first story I linked has a lot of the details. I interviewed two other candidates for CD34, Ramiro Garza and Anthony Troiani; I did try to reach Villalobos’ campaign early on, but no one ever replied to the email I sent. One other opponent has joined the call for him to resign, and I won’t be surprised if others follow. Like I said, what a mess. BOR and Grits have more.

March fundraising reports for Congressional candidates

Here’s a roundup of campaign finance reports for Congressional races and candidates of interest. I’ve been collecting links to the reports for contested Democratic races on my 2012 primary pages.

Area races

Nick Lampson had a typically strong fundraising report, which brings him up to parity with most of his potential Republican rivals. James Old, Michael Truncale, and Randy Weber (by the way, welcome to the district, Randy) have raised more in total – they’ve also been in the race longer – but only Old has more cash on hand, and that’s likely to change by the time the primary rolls around. Lampson should be in good shape to take on whoever emerges from that cattle call.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that Mike Jackson‘s fundraising in CD36 has been less than impressive? Just over $200K total, with $50K of that being loans, and $75K on hand, for a veteran legislator who’s been running since the beginning and is the consensus favorite? Sure, he’s got a clear path to the seat in November once he vanquishes his unheralded primary opponents, but that’s my point: The guy who’s gonna win generally has no trouble raking in the dough. Anyone want to venture a theory about this?

Along the same lines, what in the world is John Culberson spending all that money on? He’s got no primary opponent, a district that’s drawn for him to win, Democratic opponents who haven’t raised any money, yet he has a paltry $62K on hand, which is actually an improvement over the December report. He’s spending it as fast as he’s collecting it, and I have no idea why.

UPDATE: As Mainstream notes in the comments, Culberson does have a primary opponent, Bill Tofte. My confusion on that point stemmed from the fact that the FEC shows Tofte in CD36. Of course, they also show Ciro Rodriguez in CD35, plus a few other misplaced people. I presume Tofte re-filed in February and I missed it. My apologies for the confusion. At least now Culberson’s spending makes sense to me.

Elsewhere

Beto O’Rourke now has more cash on hand than incumbent Rep. Silvestre Reyes, but Reyes has raised more than twice as much, spent almost five times as much, and recently received the endorsement of President Obama and former President Clinton. I don’t know offhand how much the Campaign for Primary Accountability may be spending against Reyes.

It’s basically a two-person affair in CD30, at least if you go by the fundraising reports. Incumbent Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and challenger Taj Clayton have far outraised challenger Barbara Mallory Caraway; Johnson holds a better than two-to-one lead over Clayton in cash on hand. This is another race in which President Obama is supporting the incumbent, and it’s one in which things have gotten a little personal.

Pete Gallego has raised $590K, more than double the haul of former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, who is still shown as running in CD35; several candidates who are now in CD34 are still shown in CD27 as well. Gallego has a ways to go to catch up to Rep. Quico Canseco, whose buddies are well aware he’s in for a fight this November. As far as I know neither Obama nor Clinton have weighed in on this race, but the League of Conservation voters endorsed Gallego recently.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett is again a million-dollar man and surely holds a wide lead in every financial category in his race. I can’t say exactly how wide because as of this posting, the March 31 report for Sylvia Romo has not been posted, but Postcards says Romo raised $52K between January 1 and March 31; add that to the $35K reported in her December report, and you get that Doggett has raised more than ten times as Romo. While the President has not offered an opinion on this race, however, Romo has the backing of most of the San Antonio political establishment and may wind up garnering some support in Austin after Statesman columnist Ken Herman wrote about her age in a way that probably won’t endear himself to some voters.

There’s a lot of money in the open seat cattle call of CD33, with a good chunk of it coming from the candidates themselves. David Alameel, who started in CD06 before the San Antonio court redrew its interim map, has loaned himself over $2 million so far. I have to say, that’s just nuts. I don’t know that it’s even possible to spend that much money in a Congressional primary; if it is, I’m not sure it’s advisable. The record of zillionaire first time candidates in Congressional races is not enviable. Former State Rep. Domingo Garcia wrote a $300K check for his campaign, and Chrysta Castaneda gave herself $65K. State Rep. Marc Veasey had the best non-self-funded haul at $177K, followed by former Dallas City Council member Steve Salazar at $77K. There are a couple of reports still outstanding. The Lone Star Project has an analysis of the candidates, though I’m pretty sure they’re not an unbiased source on this.

Joaquin Castro isn’t in a primary, but he sure continues to bring in the donations, a development that will undoubtedly make eyes twinkle at the DCCC. I could compare his performance to that of Mike Jackson, but it’s not really fair to do so, as Castro was going to be in a smoking hot primary for much of the cycle, and much of his total is the result of that. I still think Jackson is underperforming, though.

Ronnie McDonald made a big splash when he announced he was leaving his post as Bastrop County Judge to pursue a seat in either the Texas Lege or Congress, but so far his choice to go for CD27 hasn’t translated to fundraising success. Rose Meza Harrison, who was in the race before he was, has outraised him so far and has more cash on hand, though neither is remotely in Rep. Blake Farenthold‘s neighborhood. I hope McDonald responds to my email requesting an interview, I’d love to ask him why he chose this race, which always seemed objectively less winnable to me.

Republican Reps. Ralph Hall and Smokey Joe Barton have been targeted by the Campaign for Primary Accountability, but it’s not clear to me they have much to worry about. Hall isn’t exactly swimming in cash, but his main opponent has collected less than $10K of other people’s money. Of Barton’s opponents, Joe Chow has raised a respectable $162K, but he’s got a high burn rate and has only $28K on hand. Itamar Gelbman‘s $185K is almost entirely his own money, but he’s hardly spent any of it. CPA has its work cut out for it.

To put this in some perspective, Barton has $1.3 million on hand after having raised $976K and spent $1.1 million. CPA has raised $1.8 million and spent $1.2 million, leaving it with $588K on hand; their totals are through February 29, not March 31. They do have a stable of well-heeled donors, though curiously enough none of the $100K+ club has given anything in 2012. That could have changed since March 1, or could change any day, of course, but my point is that some targets are softer than others.

Finally, in CD34 Filemon Vela reported $245K total, of which $150K was his own. That leaves Armando Villalobos with the biggest actual haul at $157K. Ramiro Garza ($138K, including $58K in loans), Denise Saenz Blanchard ($104K, $10K in loans), and Anthony Troiani ($56K) followed behind.

January finance reports: Congress and Senate

The last batch of finance reports to come in are the federal reports, which for the most part don’t get posted till a full month after they’re due, which in this case was February 1. I’ve created a Google spreadsheet of the Texas FEC reports, taken by querying on Texas from this page, then culling the chaff. You can compare my report to this one at Kos, which focuses on the more interesting race. Note that in my spreadsheet you will find links to each candidates’ report so you can see for yourself what they’ve been up to. You can see all the finance report links on my 2012 Harris and 2012 Texas primary pages. A few highlights:

– Still no report yet from David Dewhurst and Paul Sadler. I can’t say I’m expecting much from Sadler, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised. As for Dewhurst, it’ll be interesting to see how his contributions from others compare to his self-funding – he would surely like to do better than Tom Leppert in that regard – and to the contribution totals Ted Cruz puts up.

– There’s Jim Turner in East Texas, who ran his last race in 2002 before being DeLayed into retirement, still sitting on a million bucks in his campaign treasury. Why it is that he hasn’t ever used any of that money to help the Democratic cause, and why it is that we rank and file Democrats tolerate that sort of behavior from so many current and former officeholders is a mystery to me.

– Nick Lampson’s late entry into the CD14 race produces a small fundraising total so far. Given his presence on the early DCCC watch list, I expect much bigger things in the March report.

– Joaquin Castro continues to hit it out of the park. Assuming the courts cooperate, you can see why the DCCC is expecting big things from him.

– A couple of Democratic primaries just got more interesting, as challengers outraised incumbents in both of them. In CD16, former El Paso Council member Beto O’Rourke took in $211K to Rep. Silvestre Reyes’ $177K. There’s a third candidate in this race, but he has no report listed. The Lion Star blog discusses what this means.

– Meanwhile, in CD30, challenger Taj Clayton raised $212K to Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson’s $95K. State Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway took in $16K. Clayton’s accomplishment is more impressive given his late entry into the race – he did it all in just ten weeks.

– Other Democratic races of interest: David Alameel wrote himself a $245K check for his challenge to Smokey Joe Barton in D06. His co-challenger Don Jacquess had no report. New dad Dan Grant raised $37K in CD10. State Rep. Pete Gallego took in another $137K in CD23 to bump his total to $288K for the cycle. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has over $3.3 million on hand after raising another $150K. Armando Villalobos led the pack in CD27 with $134K raised, followed by Ramiro Garza with $70K and Rose Meza Harrison with $15K. However, Villalobos spent $116K to Garza’s $3K, leaving him with only $16K on hand to Garza’s $67K. State Rep. Mark Veasey collected $46K for CD33, putting him ahead of Kathleen Hicks, who had $5800. Finally, former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez was actually out-raised by Sylvia Romo in CD35, with her getting $35K to his $27K, but he maintained $99K in cash to her $30K.

– On the Republican side, there’s a lot of money flowing into CD14. I don’t know who James Old is, but he’s taken in $433K for the cycle and has $310K on hand. Following him are State Rep. Randy Weber ($313K for the cycle, $206K on hand); Michael Truncale ($269K for the cycle and $149K on hand); and Felicia Harris ($161K for the cycle and $103K on hand). State Sen. Mike Jackson has a surprisingly paltry $61K on hand for CD36, having raised $130K for the cycle. No one else has as much as $10K on hand in that race, however. The Williams non-brothers, Michael and Roger, have plenty of money available to them but as yet not district in which they would want to use any of it. I’m sure they’re burning candles in hope of a favorable map from the judges.

That’s about all I have for now. The good news for me is that with the delayed primary, the next reports won’t be out till April.

Williams in, Lucio out for Congress

Now that the Lege has finished its job with Congressional redistricting, expect to hear a lot more stories about the hopefuls and the not-hopefuls and their plans. For instance, Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams.

With the race for Senate getting crowded, Republican Michael Williams figured the new North Texas congressional seat might just be the ticket to Washington. The former Railroad Commissioner has changed his campaign web site and refiled his papers with the Federal Election Commission as a candidate for Congressional District 33. The district is one of four new seats that Texas gets as a result of population growth. The Legislature passed the new congressional map last week and sent to the governor. The map likely faces legal challenges and has to win federal preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. But Williams’ campaign consultant Corbin Casteel says the new Arlington-based Republican district is a perfect fit for Williams.

“Michael knows if he gets to Washington as a senator or a congressman, it doesn’t matter which, he’s going to be a conservative leader,” Casteel said. “This is a much more direct path. The Senate race is crowded. It’s not going to be clear for several months who’s going to break out of that, so he said this congressional seat is in my home town, it makes plenty of sense.”

Williams first talked about this a couple of weeks ago, not long after the first map came out. Despite his lackluster Senate campaign, you’d have to make him a frontrunner for this seat, assuming it survives a Justice Department review.

Meanwhile, a more surprising announcement is that State Sen. Eddie Lucio will not run for Congress in CD34.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio says he will not run for Congress, even though a new heavily Democratic open district has been created that is anchored in Brownsville.

[…]

Lucio first talked publicly about running for Congress in an exclusive interview with the Guardian at a legislative event at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen in September 2009. The 2010 Census was just around the corner and Lucio felt sure that the huge population growth in the Rio Grande Valley over the last decade would result in a new congressional seat being awarded to South Texas.

Here are his comments to the Guardian in September 2009:

“We deserve to have at least three congressional districts anchored in the Valley and going north. I will work to that affect next session and I will seriously look at running for one of those seats.

“If I lose another 15 pounds and continue to have the energy I have today I would very seriously like to cap my political career… not so much my political career but I would love to address and tackle the issues that are important to us internationally, immigration, health care, water, the environment.

“I think there are a lot of wonderful things we could do at the federal level that would benefit the Valley and South Texas.”

This is surprising because the conventional wisdom was that Lucio, who is on the Senate Redistricting Committee that produced the initial map, was said to have drawn CD34 for himself. There were rumors that he’d vote for the final map, though that turned out to be untrue. He made his announcement on Twitter last Friday; his full statement about why he chose not to run is here.

Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos has expressed an interest in running in District 34. However, as Lucio points out, it has yet to win pre-clearance from the Department of Justice. The Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force has said the new map leaves more than 200,000 Latinos in Nueces County “stranded” in a congressional seat (District 27) where they cannot elect their preferred candidate of choice. On Friday, the Task Force announced it had filed a voting rights lawsuit in federal court in San Antonio.

Stories about that lawsuit are here and here. There was already a lawsuit filed by LULAC in the same U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio, and LULAC is listed as a member of the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, so it’s not clear to me if these are separate lawsuits or not. If they are, I’d say the odds are good they eventually get combined. As for Armando Villalobos, he had announced his interest in running for Congress back in May, well before a map made an appearance. As with CD33, we’ll see how the legal reviews shake out.

Let the candidate speculation season begin!

We don’t have Congressional districts yet but we do have potential Congressional candidates.

Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos is considering seeking higher office.

Villalobos told Action 4 News he is considering running for congress and has officially formed an exploratory committee.

The Cameron County District Attorney created an event on his personal Facebook page announcing a reception for his new exploratory committee.

That event is scheduled for tonight at 7, in case anyone reading this is in the vicinity. Villalobos is at least the third possible Democratic candidate for a district to be named later. There’s a Some Dude sending out press releases for CD07, and there’s former Fort Bend County Treasurer candidate KP George looking at CD22, and likely others of which I am not currently aware. Whether Villalobos might wind up in a newly created district, in the same district as freshman Blake Farenthold, or in a bizarre fajita-strip district with an incumbent Democrat remains to be seen. I don’t know anything about him, but he does seem like the kind of person who could have the juice to make a real campaign; one wonders how much considerations like that will affect the eventual map. Anyone know anything more about Mr. Villalobos?

The next US Attorney in Houston

Now that we finally have an Attorney General, we also have a lot of people who would like to work for him.

The U.S. attorney wannabes who confirmed for the Houston Chronicle that they are interested are Harris County District Judge Marc Carter, Galveston County District Judge Susan Criss, lawyer and ex-prosecutor Philip Hilder, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cedric Joubert, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Magidson, lawyer and ex-prosecutor Ricky Raven, lawyer and ex-prosecutor Eric Reed, lawyer Larry Veselka and lawyer and ex-prosecutor Susan Strawn.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, is collecting applications. His office confirmed that Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark White III and Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos have expressed interest in the job.

Some others whose names are being discussed have pulled themselves off or seem equivocal.

Brownsville lawyer Benigno “Trey” Martinez said he is out of the race since he decided not to uproot his family. Ex-Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford said he was encouraged to seek the position but probably won’t.

The U.S. Southern District of Texas, headquartered in Houston, covers 43 counties and runs down the coast from Galveston to Brownsville and as far west as Laredo. The Houston-based U.S. attorney is one of four top federal prosecutors in Texas.

Those four prosecutors are Tim Johnson of the Southern District, who was an interim appointment, Johnny Sutton of the West District in San Antonio, James T. Jacks of the North District in the Metroplex, and Rebecca Gregory of the East District in Beaumont. I don’t know what the normal procedure is here for US Attorneys when there’s a new President, especially one of a different party, but I would assume at least one more of these offices will open up. Not to be too crassly political about it, but given the thinness of the Democrats’ bench for statewide office, these would be plum positions for someone with higher ambitions.

Most of those seeking the job are Democrats, though Magidson just finished filling a Republican term as Harris County district attorney. White’s father was the former Democratic Texas governor. Hilder and Veselka were active in President Barack Obama’s campaign.

And Judge Marc Carter is a Republican as well. I’m happy for him that he’s interested in the job, but with all due respect, he can get in line behind the Democratic hopefuls.