Sancho Panza Takes the Stand

Will John Castillo ever escape Ben Reyes's shadow?

"Oh well, he helped me in my campaign," answered Castillo, who noted that Reyes may have spent about $320 on postage stamps in that effort. Again, Castillo denied receiving anything else of value from Reyes.

The same day as the FBI interview, Castillo contacted an old friend, attorney Frumencio Reyes, went to his office, and turned over $2,600 to the lawyer, representing it as the remaining, untouched cash from the envelope given him by Maldonado. Because Castillo had told no one else he had received the money in the first place, the money then remained in Frumencio's safe until he told his new lawyers, Max Secrest and Bennett, about its location.

As it turned out, upon examination, none of the serial numbers from that cash matched the original money given to Castillo at the Hyatt. The councilman blamed the discrepancy on his former lawyer, implying he spent the original bills in the nearly two-year interval the money remained in his safe.

The Hotel Five jury will decide in three weeks or so whether Castillo's convoluted rationale for taking $4,500 from Ben Reyes and Betti Maldonado constitutes reasonable doubt as to his intentions. But if his fellow defendants follow him to the stand with equally tortured explanations, the testimony could provide the backbone for a new political-science text: "50 Ways for a Public Official to Take Cash and Justify It."

E-mail Tim Fleck at tim_fleck@houstonpress.com.

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