November 17, 2007

Unfortunately, This Qualifies As A Minor Democratic Scandal

A nude woman fleeing a groping imposter? Lying about academic credentials in court? Owning a controlling interest in a Texas law firm without having a license to practice law? In these days of Norman Hsu and the Fujian fundraising scandals, this case may only qualify as a minor embarrassment to Hillary Clinton and Texas Democrats. Mauricio Celis got indicted on a slew of charges yesterday as I left Corpus Christi, and the fundraiser may join Hsu in the rogues' gallery for the 2008 cycle:

A major contributor to Democratic causes and political races was indicted Friday on charges of falsely holding himself out as a lawyer and impersonating a public servant.

Mauricio Celis, a Corpus Christi businessman, has a controlling interest in the CGT Law Group of Corpus Christi even though he is not a lawyer.

Now, he's being accused of practicing law without a license. Texas law prohibits anyone from owning a controlling interest in a law firm unless he is a licensed lawyer.

A Nueces County grand jury on Friday indicted him on seven counts of falsely holding himself out as a lawyer, a third-degree felony. Each count stems from separate incidents in which Celis was listed as an attorney, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported in its online edition. Celis' business cards, letterhead and his firm's Web site identified him as an attorney licensed in Mexico. One business fax sheet stated he was licensed in Washington, D.C., and California. Celis also signed a settlement document as an attorney. He told Police Chief Bryan Smith he was licensed in Mexico, according to the indictment.

That won't be the most embarrassing revelation about Celis. A nude woman sought refuge in a convenience store, claiming that she had been groped by a man while trying to take a dip in his hot tub. While police tried to sort out the situation, Celis arrived in a bathrobe and attempted to take the woman into his custody by identifying himself as a sheriff's deputy from a nearby county. That attempt apparently failed, and he also faces charges for impersonating a police officer.

Next comes a perjury charge stemming from his testimony in a civil lawsuit last May. He told a court that he had a degree from a Mexican university in judicial sciences. He apparently never graduated from the school, and the case is strong enough for an aggravated perjury charge. If Celis gets convicted on all counts in a consolidated trial, he could face 10 years in prison, but if Texas tries them separately, that number could rise to 32 years in prison.

How important is Celis? In the last three cycles, Celis donated over $110,000 to Democrats. Donations went to John Edwards, Claire McCaskill, Ken and John Salazar, and especially the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the DNC, the latter two of which accounts for almost half of those donations. Hillary Clinton received a maximum donation of $2300 from Celis in March, presumably for her primary fund. He's a fairly heavy hitter, especially here in Texas.

Of course, with Norman Hsu allegedly stealing as much as $60 million from investors and possibly laundering his own political donations through straw donors, Celis' alleged confidence games look petty in comparison. It doesn't seem petty to the people who accuse Celis of defrauding them through his misrepresentations as an attorney, though, nor to the woman whom he attempted to kidnap through deception right out from under police protection. It once again calls into question the company Democrats keep in their political circles. (via CapQ reader Gregg)

UPDATE: No, Celis did not arrive in a motorized bathtub, although that's only just lightly more odd than showing up in a bathrobe and flashing a deputy's badge. Thanks to Santay in the comments who pointed out my error.


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