By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Reyes testified that as a councilman he had lobbied in Austin to secure state legislation to allow properties seized for nonpayment of back taxes to be sold off without requiring the purchaser to pay off those accumulated liens. He hoped to exploit the new law by buying up properties before the rest of the real estate community realized they were available at bargain prices.
There are a few problems with that defense line, the first being that Dogium told Reyes on tape that the Cayman Group did not want to invest in the real estate venture. On tape, when Molineiro hands Reyes the bag of cash, he explains that it is a present for helping the Cayman Group win a role in the hotel contract. When Reyes actually purchased the parcels of land, he did so in his own name and that of his son and girlfriend, rather than the name of a joint venture.
In his testimony, Reyes claimed Molineiro had actually met him at several previously undisclosed meetings at an eastside restaurant, Los Molcajetes, where the alleged details of their joint venture were hammered out. No tapes exist of those meetings, and Reyes was hazy enough about the dates to prevent the government from proving that Molineiro could not have been present.
Ramsey then highlighted a telephone conversation in November of 1995 between Reyes and Molineiro, where the informant, apparently searching for the right phrase, says: "Everything is arranged ... the ... all the loans ... all the tickets that ... all the loans are taken care of." According to Ramsey, the exchange proves that in untaped conversations, Molineiro enticed Reyes into believing the $50,000 was a venture capital loan to purchase the properties.
The taped evidence that has been introduced in trial is ambiguous as to whether Molineiro and Reyes had any business connection on the real estate front. Reyes does repeatedly talk to Molineiro about his purchases at the auctions, but each time the agent seems somewhat confused, and time and again asks for explanations of the activity.
The government contends that Reyes accepted the $50,000 as a clear-cut gift, and no matter how he chose to spend the money, it constituted a bribe to help the Cayman Group win the hotel project.
In testimony, Reyes came up with a novel explanation for why he had claimed on tape to Dogium that he had bribed nine Houston city councilmen with gifts of $5,000 each. The Cayman Group operatives, explained Reyes, were Latin American cowboys who would have tried to bribe city officials on their own if he had not convinced them that he was already doing so.
"It was going to be a real tough deal to keep them from screwing up," explained Reyes of Dogium and Molineiro. "It was a way for me to take the opportunity away from [Dogium] to give money to councilmembers ... a way to cool him off."
Testimony ended last week on that note, with explanations still to come from Reyes on a batch of FBI tape recordings of Reyes and Molineiro preparing alleged bribes for Councilman Castillo, Yarbrough and then-councilman Peavy. Stay tuned to find out if they prove more convincing than the account of Reyes's war wounds.