Jury finds state Sen. Carlos Uresti guilty of 11 felonies, leading to calls from Democratic colleagues to resign

State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, could face years in prison and lose his seat after he was found guilty of multiple felonies Thursday. 

*This story has been updated throughout. 

SAN ANTONIO — The courtroom was silent and thick with anxiety Thursday morning as the judge’s deputy read the verdicts: “Guilty,” “guilty,” “guilty” — 11 times over, and on all felony counts.

State Sen. Carlos Uresti sat stone-faced, his gaze directed at the deputy, as he heard the ruling that throws into question his two-decade career in the Texas Legislature and opens up the possibility of more than a century in federal prison and millions of dollars in fines. 

If upheld on appeal, the 11 felony charges — including multiple counts of fraud and money laundering — would render the San Antonio Democrat ineligible to continue serving as a state legislator. Uresti, an attorney by trade, would also be disbarred.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Uresti has no immediate plans to step down from his seat in the state Senate, he said minutes after the verdict. And he will “absolutely” appeal the jury’s decision. But his Democratic colleagues in the Senate released a statement saying he needed to go.

"The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is calling upon Sen. Uresti to resign his position," said Sen. José Rodriguez, a Democrat from El Paso who chairs the caucus. 

And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Republican who presides over the Senate, said he would strip Uresti of his committee assignments.  

Uresti was charged last year in connection with FourWinds Logistics, a now-bankrupt oilfield services company that perpetrated a Ponzi scheme against its investors. Uresti served as general counsel for FourWinds and owned 1 percent of the company. He also earned commission for recruiting investors, according to court documents.

Several of the company’s leaders pleaded guilty to fraud charges before Uresti’s case even went to trial, some of them in plea agreements to testify for the government. Prosecutors argued that Uresti had used his prestigious reputation to lend credibility to an unknown company; several investors testified that Uresti’s presence reassured them that their money would be safe with FourWinds. But Uresti’s lawyers countered that the lawmaker was never aware of, or involved in, the company’s shady dealings.

Uresti’s co-defendant, former FourWinds consultant Gary Cain, was also found guilty on all counts.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

As Uresti left the courtroom, he hugged and shook the hands of a receiving line of family members, many of them crying. The family and his team of lawyers gathered for several minutes in the adjacent hallway.

Several relatives, including Uresti’s wife Lleana, didn’t make it to the courtroom in time to hear the jury’s decision. Minutes after the 11 “guilty” verdicts were read, she raced through court security — flinging off first her heels, then a bracelet, running back and forth through the metal detector — and ran to her husband outside the courtroom, where they held each other in a long embrace.

“This was a shock to all of us,” he told a crowd of reporters outside the courthouse.

The prominent and at times salacious case has drawn dozens of unaffiliated observers to the courthouse over the past month. The courtroom was particularly packed for three days of testimony from Uresti’s former legal client Denise Cantu, who lost most of the $900,000 she invested in FourWinds. Cantu — who said she had an affair with Uresti — won that money with his legal representation in a wrongful death suit after her son and daughter were killed in 2010 car accident.

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas John F. Bash sat in to hear the verdict in what has been perhaps the highest-profile prosecution of his short tenure.

“Justice was served,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Blackwell said after the ruling.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra will determine Uresti’s penalty in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines. That is tentatively set for June 25.

Uresti is also set for trial in May on separate felony charges of bribery and money laundering. It's not clear yet whether Thursday's verdict will affect that schedule. And the embattled legislator has also come under fire over unrelated sexual assault allegations — charges he has denied.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

As the family — and its pack of lawyers — trudged down the steps and away from the courtroom, an onlooker yelled “Good riddance!”

A family member whipped around and shouted back. “Excuse me?”

Then the whole family walked away.

Cat Cardenas contributed to this report.

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misstated the hometown of state Sen. José Rodriguez.