Texas attorney convicted of scamming drug traffickers

SHERMAN, Texas (AP) — A Texas lawyer has been convicted of corruption for scamming roughly $1.5 million from international drug traffickers whom authorities say turned him to the FBI.

Jamie Balagia, 62, was found guilty Tuesday of conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice and wire fraud.

The jury deliberated for about a day and a half following the two-week trial in the Eastern District of Texas in Sherman before U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant. The jury also found Balagia guilty of attempted violation of the Kingpin Act for accepting money from men people the feds designated as significant drug traffickers without official government permission.

Balagia, a former Austin officer, is accused of conspiring with a Florida private investigator, Huck Morgan, and a Colombian attorney, Bibiana Correa Perrea. The alleged scheme involved scamming Colombian drug traffickers into paying “attorney fees” for acting as intermediaries with government officials who they said would accept bribes to dismiss criminal charges or reduce prison sentences.

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There were no bribes or government officials involved.

“This defendant and his group were running a scam on drug dealers— some of the biggest drug dealers in the world,” U.S. Attorney Joe Brown said in a statement. “Fortunately for him, these drug dealers chose to turn him into the FBI rather than handle it any other way. It is important for the American justice system that we prosecute those who represent that the justice system is for sale.”

Morgan and Correa pleaded guilty. Morgan was sentenced to six years in federal prison while Correa is serving seven.

Balagia claimed his co-defendants manipulated him. He faces up to 30 years in federal prison when he’s sentenced early next year.

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Balagia’s defense attorneys, Gaylon Runnels and Matthew Hamilton, said they may be appealing.