Attorney Michael McCrum and Carlos Uresti exit U.S. federal courthouse.
A long-anticipated witness in the federal criminal trial of state Senator Carlos Uresti took the stand Thursday, Feb. 1 — kicking off a tedious, detailed, and, at times, salacious unearthing of the witness' relationship with the San Antonio lawmaker.
Denise Cantu's two-day long testimony detailed the photos sent from Uresti's cell phone of his genitals, steamy sex in an office restroom, and other accounts of the Democrat lawmaker's extramarital affair with Cantu, a former client at his San Antonio law firm.
But Cantu wasn't called by federal prosecutors to testify this week just to make the jury blush.
Cantu was one of the main investors in FourWinds, a now-bankrupt company that sold sand used in hydraulic fracking. Uresti owned a small percentage of the local company, and was promised substantial profits for recruiting investors and offering occasional legal advice. During the company’s short run, bookkeepers were allegedly told to tweak spreadsheets to make potential investors believe the company was far more financially stable than it was.
In reality, prosecutors say the company’s owners were all but burning money on gaudy parties, prostitutes, and lavish vacations
. Investors, including Cantu, lost millions when FourWinds declared bankruptcy in 2015. Uresti and two co-defendants, FourWinds CEO Stan Bates and financial consultant Gary Cain, were all indicted on a combined 22 felony counts of fraud and money laundering. Bates pleaded guilty
in early January, while Uresti and Cain’s joint case continues to play out in federal court.
Cantu's involvement in the case begins in 2010, when her Ford Explorer's tire exploded while she was behind the wheel. The resulting crash killed two of her children and their two friends. Cantu, who lives Harlingen, said her son's basketball coach recommended she contact Uresti to file a wrongful death suit against Michelin and Walmart.
Uresti did, and ended up winning Cantu a hefty settlement in the case. According to Cantu, their sexual relationship began during this initial trial.
“I trusted him. He was my friend, my lover,” Cantu said during her testimony.
By 2014, however, Uresti had convinced Cantu to invest the bulk of her settlement, around $900,000, into FourWinds. Unbeknownst to Cantu, Uresti got 10 percent of her profits — a hefty $27,000 kickback. When the company went bankrupt in 2015, Cantu lost the majority of her massive investment.
In court, both federal prosecutors and Uresti’s defense attorneys have dedicated hours to picking apart Cantu’s relationship with both men, in an attempt to define her character.
While prosecutors have painted Cantu as an emotionally vulnerable victim to Uresti’s ponzi scheme, swayed by a man who helped her recover from a immense tragedy with romance and promises of wealth, Uresti’s attorneys spent most of Friday depicting their client as Cantu’s white knight, saving her from the villainous grip of FourWinds CEO Bates.
Defense attorney Michael McCrum raked through dozens of text messages Friday, sent between Cantu and Bates. After Uresti convinced her to invest in FourWinds and introduced her to Bates, the CEO and Cantu began a sexual relationship of their own. Like Uresti, Bates sent Cantu explicit messages, littered with promises of wealth. In court, Cantu struggled to remember how often and when she has met with either men for sexual encounters.
McCrum had Cantu tell the jury that while she was receiving illicit text messages from Uresti and Bates, she was also in the beginning of a relationship with a man in Harlingen. Suddenly, Cantu had morphed into a promiscuous maneater.
McCrum pointed to a voicemail message from Uresti telling Cantu not to sign any paperwork Bates shows her until he sees it.
“As Uresti is leaving voicemails seeking to protect you, you were with Mr. Bates and engaging in sexting with Mr. Bates,” McCrum opined. At least one jury member rolled their eyes.
The defense will continue cross-examination of Cantu Monday at 11 a.m.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story falsely claimed that Sen. Uresti was up for re-election this March. He is not.
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