Former Congressman Found Guilty On Two Counts
SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ A federal court jury found a former Democratic congressman guilty Wednesday of racketeering and accepting an illegal gift in an influence-peddling scheme.
Albert Bustamante, 58, wavered slightly as he stood and U.S. District Judge Ed Prado read the verdict. After deliberating nine hours over two days, jurors convicted Bustamante on two counts of a 10-count federal indictment.
Bustamante’s wife, attorney Rebecca Bustamante, was found innocent of all seven aiding-and-abetting charges against her.
″I’m happy for my wife. She didn’t deserve any of this,″ said Bustamante.
Afterward, Mrs. Bustamante and the couple’s 15-year-old daughter, Celina, embraced for several minutes and cried.
″We’re going to be all right,″ Bustamante told his daughter. ″Don’t you worry.″
Bustamante could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison on the racketeering charge and up to two years in prison on the illegal gratuity charge and could be fined up to $250,000 on each count. No sentencing date has been set. Bustamante remains free on a $50,000 bond.
With the racketeering conviction, jurors found that Bustamante engaged in a pattern of corruption while in Congress from 1985 to 1993. The racketeering charge included a list of nine allegations. It was unknown which offenses the jury believed Bustamante committed.
A key allegation was a $35,000 bribe that prosecutors claim Bustamante accepted from Falcon Food and Managements Services Inc. in exchange for using his influence to help the company try to renew an Air Force food contract.
Also alleged in the racketeering charge was a deal to acquire a San Antonio television station that prosecutors claim Bustamante was allowed into at no- risk because of his position in Congress. That deal also makes up the illegal gratuity charge Bustamante was convicted on.
Defense lawyers said they would appeal the convictions.
Federal prosecutors, who remained tight-lipped with reporters through the trial and the investigation preceding it, had little to say afterward.
″The jury spoke,″ said prosecutor Mike Attanasio.
Defense lawyers had tried to portray Justice Department lawyers as outsiders from Washington who didn’t understand the ways of South Texas. During closing arguments to the predominantly Hispanic jury, defense attorney Tony Canales used Spanish words, and once noted that the prosecutors might not have understood what he was saying.
A hearing was scheduled for Thursday morning to discuss the possible forfeiture of money that Bustamante reaped illegally.
Mrs. Bustamante, 48, had been accused of helping her husband receive a $30,000 payment from a real estate company. She also was alleged to have funneled to her husband more than $279,000 paid to her as percentages of delinquent tax collection contracts held by her law firm.
Bustamante, who often talks of his humble beginnings as a migrant farm worker, started out as a teacher and coach in San Antonio. Eventually, he became a county commission, then a Bexar County judge before successfully running for Congress in 1984.
Amid publicity about the long-running federal investigation of him, he lost the 23rd Congressional District seat last year to Republican Henry Bonilla.