‘DWI Dude’ attorney sentenced for scamming drug traffickers

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FILE – In this May 1, 2014 file photo, Libertarian party candidate for Texas attorney general Jamie Balagia speaks in front of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, about his election platform. Balagia, a Texas lawyer known as the “DWI Dude” has been sentenced to more than 15 years in federal prison for falsely promising Colombian drug traffickers he’d get their charges reduced in exchange for cash. Balagia was sentenced Monday, May, 3, 2021, to 188 months in federal prison. (William Luther/The San Antonio Express-News via AP)

SHERMAN, Texas (AP) — A Texas lawyer known as the “DWI Dude” has been sentenced to more than 15 years in federal prison for falsely promising Colombian drug traffickers he’d get their charges reduced or dismissed in exchange for cash, prosecutors said.

Jamie Balagia, 65, was sentenced Monday to 188 months in federal prison. He was convicted after a two-week trial in 2019 of conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice, violation of the Kingpin Act, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

According to federal prosecutors, Balagia conspired with a private investigator in Florida and an attorney in Colombia to scam 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.

There were no bribes or government officials involved.

“The evidence in this case demonstrated that Balagia had been shaking down his clients for years by claiming that he was able to purchase favorable deals from prosecutors and judges alike,” Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas Ganjei said.

Defense attorney Gaylon Riddels had asked for probation for his client, saying that Balagia was “homeless, destitute and broken,” the Dallas Morning News reported.

Balagia’s two co-defendants in the case previously pleaded guilty and are serving federal prison sentences.

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