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Lawyer Who Scammed Major Drug Dealers Hears His Fate

Attorney James Morris Balagia sentenced to 15-plus years in prison for defrauding drug traffickers
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 6, 2021 8:43 AM CDT

(Newser) – A Texas attorney who specialized in representing clients facing charges of drug possession and driving while intoxicated is now seeing the culmination of his own legal troubles. The New York Times reports that on Monday, James Morris Balagia, known as the "DWI Dude," was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for an international fraud scheme that involved him swindling Colombian drug traffickers for more than $1 million. In a release, prosecutors say that Balagia, 65, and two associates—a Florida private investigator and a lawyer in Colombia—told cocaine traffickers represented by Balagia that if they paid extra "attorney fees," that money would go toward bribing US government officials to either reduce their prison sentences or nix the criminal charges against them completely. "In reality, there were no bribes or government officials," the release notes. Instead, Balagia pocketed the money, prosecutors say.

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The feds got wind of the plot via the drug dealers themselves, which, considering how they could have handled things with Balagia, was likely a lucky break for the attorney. "This defendant and his group were running a scam on ... some of the biggest drug dealers in the world," former US Attorney Joe Brown said previously, per the Dallas Morning News. "Fortunately for him, these drug dealers chose to turn him in to the FBI rather than handle it any other way." Balagia, who was arrested in 2017, was found guilty in 2019 by a jury of conspiracy to commit money laundering and wire fraud, as well as obstruction of justice, among other charges. His two associates are also now serving time in federal prison. Balagia, a former police officer, was also made to give up his law office in Manor, Texas, and hit with a $1.5 million judgment, per the release. (Read more fraud stories.)

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