Texas state Sen. Carlos Uresti “groomed” nearly $900,000 out of a former client and grieving mother by cultivating a sexual relationship with her, according to prosecutors in court on Monday.
The 54-year-old Uresti, who has also been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment during his time as a legislator, is on trial for 11 felony charges—including money laundering, wire fraud, and securities fraud—over his alleged part in a Ponzi scheme involving frac sand company FourWinds Logistics. Uresti, who served as legal counsel for the now-defunct company, has repeatedly denied all of the charges.
As the San Antonio Express-News reported, during opening arguments on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Blackwell told jurors that Uresti, a personal injury lawyer, represented mother Denise Cantu when her children were killed in a 2010 vehicle rollover accident.
Blackwell said the circumstances of Cantu’s part in the case were “born in tragedy, birthed in loss,” according to Texas Tribune reporter Emma Platoff.
Uresti helped Cantu win the wrongful-death suit, then “became her confidant, he became her adviser, her dear friend, and it became sexual,” Blackwell claimed. The lawmaker then allegedly defrauded Cantu by persuading her to invest nearly $900,000 in FourWinds, which went bankrupt in 2015.
Cantu told the FBI last year that Uresti sent her flirtatious text-messages while he was still representing her in court, at one point telling her “Damn, you look really sexy today” just before she was to give a deposition, the Express-News reports.
Later, after he was married, he allegedly sent her a picture of his penis taken in a bathroom stall while shopping at the mall with his wife, according to government records obtained by the Express-News.
Uresti denies the alleged relationship.
“I trusted him,” Cantu testified in November in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, according to the Express-News. “He always gave me good advice.”
Cantu said Uresti and former FourWinds Chief Executive Officer Stan Bates told her that she could always “just take all money back, with no risk and guaranteed,” if she wasn’t satisfied.
She lost all but $100,000 of the investment when the company went bust.
According to the San Antonio Business Journal, Uresti and co-defendant Gary Cain are accused of lying to several potential investors—with FourWinds allegedly using the newly obtained money to pay out earlier investors.
Former CEO Stan Bates and Chief Operating Officer Shannon Smith both already pleaded guilty to their parts in the now-defunct company.
The Tribune reports that, later on Monday afternoon, Uresti’s attorney Mike McCrum argued the state senator was unaware of the company’s illegal practices.“There’s not a question of fraud in this case,” said McCrum. “Fraud did happen. People pled guilty to it. But the people on the outside didn’t know about it. That’s why we’re here.”
Uresti’s alleged behavior towards Cantu comes on the heels of allegations, first reported in The Daily Beast in December, in which multiple women accused the San Antonio Democrat of making lewd comments, of repeatedly ogling them, and of sending inappropriate messages. One young female reporter even claimed that Uresti put his hands on her thigh and then “put his tongue down my throat.”
Uresti denied each one of those allegations to The Daily Beast, calling them “unfounded” and “erroneous.”