The final chapter of former State Sen. Carlos Uresti’s criminal proceedings closed Tuesday afternoon as a federal judge sentenced him to five years in prison, to be served concurrently with sentences received for other felony convictions.
After maintaining his innocence for more than a year, Uresti pleaded guilty in October 2018 to charges of conspiracy to pay and accept bribes relating to a medical services contract for a correctional facility in West Texas while he was in office. Nearly one year ago, he was found guilty of 11 felony charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison for an unrelated matter involving FourWinds Logistics, an oilfield services firm.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of being a public servant,” Uresti said, reading a statement to the court before his sentence was delivered. “Beyond loving my job, I also loved my title, and when the opportunity arose to capitalize on my title, I did so. … I betrayed myself, my constituents, my family, and the victims.
“… Somewhere along the way I lost the vision of being an upstanding citizen and a public official and my priorities changed,” he said, adding that he has “profound regret, guilt and disappointment that I’ll face over the rest of my life.”
Uresti, a Democrat who represented Senate District 19, was free on bond for one year ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, but must turn himself in Feb. 21 by 2 p.m. to begin serving his sentence, which includes three years probation and mandated mental health treatment.
Federal attorneys did not object to a request by Uresti’s attorneys that he be allowed to surrender himself at an undetermined future date, but Senior U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra, who presided over both of Uresti’s cases, strongly objected.
“Mr. Uresti has had more than enough time to settle his affairs,” Ezra said, adding that Uresti was warned that he would be taken into custody at the conclusion of the bribery case. “There comes a time when enough is enough. … In my career, I’ve never see that kind of largesse on the part of a federal district judge.”
Lubbock businessman Vernon “Trey” Farthing III, Uresti’s alleged co-conspirator, was indicted in the Reeves County Correctional Facility case in May 2017, but he was acquitted by a federal jury in November 2018, according to media reports. Reeves County Judge Jimmy Galindo, another co-conspirator who received money to vote in favor of Farthing’s firm to win the correctional facility contract, pleaded guilty and will be sentenced later this month.
Ezra also ordered Uresti to pay restitution to Reeves County of $876,000, the amount in kickbacks that prosecutors said Uresti and Farthing received as a result of the conspiracy.
The maximum sentence for Uresti’s bribery charges was five years.
Ezra said it was the “saddest” case because Uresti’s crime was “so absolutely unnecessary” and motivated only by greed. He went on to suggest that Uresti should have entered into the private sector if he was dissatisfied with his public paychecks.
“The law applies to the powerful as well as the weak, the rich as well as the poor,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Blackwell, one of the federal prosecutors assigned to Uresti’s cases, told reporters after the sentencing hearing. “That’s something that every citizen should be proud of. … Not every country has that.
“I give [Uresti] credit – it was a heartfelt [apology],” Blackwell said, adding that his plea of guilty and waiving the right to appeal gives a “sense of finality” to the nearly two-year-long saga.
“Nobody is above the law,” he said. “The lawmakers are not above the laws themselves.”
Uresti had planned to appeal the FourWinds convictions – which included charges of wire fraud, securities fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering – but agreed to drop it as part of his plea deal for the bribery charges. The court ordered him to pay $6.3 million to the FourWinds fraud victims. He resigned from the Senate in June 2018 and has relinquished his license to practice law.
Uresti told the court he was confident he would find a way to serve the community in the future by using his “education, training, life experiences – good and bad – to continue to help others” during and after incarceration.
He will spend the next week with his family, Uresti told reporters, as he has for the last several months, “showing them my love.”
“… I’m prepared to face the consequences of my actions,” he said.