in Houston, Texas
A tale of murder, kickbacks, and a convict allowed to go free in South Texas investigation into judicial corruption
Monday, Jul 02, 2012, 11:32AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Not long after Amit Livingston shot and killed his lover, Hermila Hernandez, Armando Villalobos, the Cameron County district attorney, told Hernandez’ mother, “I am the state. I am the law. I am going to represent and defend your daughter.”

By that Villalobos meant I am going to get a conviction, skim and split Livingston’s bond money with the presiding judge and Hernandez’ attorney and let Livingston go free, according to federal prosecutors in a wild and woolly story by Associated Press today.

Villalobos and the attorney, Eddie Lucio, his former law partner, go to trial Aug. 30 on numerous charges of fixing cases for money with the help of former District Judge Abel Limas.

Limas, as TexasWatchdog told you in May, pleaded guilty to racketeering that resulted in payoffs of at least $340,000 while he served as district judge from 2001 to 2008.

Villalobos and Lucio were arrested in May and a dozen people, half of them lawyers, have been indicted in connection with the federal investigation. Associated Press is calling it one of the worst cases ever of judicial corruption in South Texas.

Whatever else is in the indictments, it will be hard to top the alleged Livingston caper.

Hernandez, a 32-year-old substitute teacher, married with three children, had begun an affair with Livingston, then 38, after meeting him on an Internet chatroom, according to a report by the McAllen Monitor.

Passersby found Hernandez partially nude and shot to death on Oct. 4, 2005, on a remote sand dune on South Padre Island. Livingston turned himself in to police about two weeks later.

According to federal investigators Villalobos arranged to have Lucio represent the Hernandez family. Before the case was heard, Villalobos convinced Limas, the presiding judge, to do something unusual, sentence Livingston on the same day he was convicted, according to the federal case.

Livingston had been free on a $500,000 bond. On Feb. 13, 2007 Livingston was convicted, and Limas sentenced him to 23 years in prison.

The sentencing allowed the bond money to be used to pay Livingston’s legal fees, a $200,000 share of a wrongful death lawsuit. Out of it, Lucio allegedly paid $80,000 to Villalobos and another $10,000 to Limas, the federal indictment says.

But Limas had made one more unusual ruling that day. He agreed to Livingston’s request for 60 days of freedom before beginning his sentence. Without bond.

Livingston hasn’t been seen since.

The indictments did little for the political career of Villalobos who, in spite of his arrest, soldiered on as a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in the newly created 34th District.

Villalobos managed to convince 3,924 voters that he was still something resembling the state and the law. His 8.7 percent of the vote put him fifth out of eight candidates in the Democratic primary May 29.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of money by flickr user nathangibbs, used via a Creative Commons license.

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