“The State Is Not Going to Put Up with This.”
Texas Border Business
Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez, Jr. urges the public to report ambulance chasers by calling his office. According to Rodriguez, this is the fastest and most effective way to catch people acting outside the law. “The State is not going to put up with so-called runners.”
Runners or ambulance chasers are people that work directly or indirectly with attorneys that break the law. Rodriguez said that everyone should be playing at the same level as an attorney.
“We also thank the people who come forward because that’s the key to this.” He said, “We hear from many individuals that say someone came to my house, someone called me, I don’t know what it was. The people that come to us, we tell them, bring them to us so we can take them to law enforcement,” he said.
The District Attorney made it very clear that no attorney or representative of an attorney should call or visit victims to solicit. “Please report it to the law enforcement afforded to our office. And that way we can put it in the hands of the proper individuals who can start an investigation.”
As an example of how barratry delivers to those that practice it, on August 6, 2019, attorney Jeffrey Stern, age 53, with offices in Bellaire, Houston, and McAllen was arrested and put in jail.
A 21-count superseding indictment had been unsealed alleging conspiracy, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and multiple tax violations in a barratry scheme, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
At that time, Stern made his initial appearance and was temporarily ordered into custody pending a detention hearing. During a 3 ½-hour hearing, a federal magistrate in Houston denied bail for Mr. Stern. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Johnson argued that Stern shouldn’t be allowed bail, laying out the government’s case for the magistrate, Peter Bray.
A trial court was permitted to detain Stern before his trial on multiple charges, including willfully filing false tax returns and witness tampering, an appeals panel ruled October 24, 2019.
According to the government, Jeffrey Stern participated in a 13-year scheme to defraud the IRS, even continuing to do so after being forced to pay fines and penalties in 2010 as a result of a civil audit, according to testimony from an IRS agent. Around the time of the federal criminal investigation into his activities, he was making around $3 million a year.
On another ambulance-chasing case, Mission resident, Juan Salvador Tovar (49) was arrested on a case involving barratry. It was reported that he worked with Davis Law Firm of Harlingen, Texas.
The affidavit accused Juan Salvador Tovar of illegally soliciting a woman that had been involved in a car accident.
According to the woman’s statement, she had not requested the services of an attorney. The cooperation of the victim made the arrest possible and for prosecutors to continue working on the case.
District Attorney Rodriguez said, “This where the key is, when victims come forward and report people trying to solicit cases from individuals that are involved in accidents.”
The Bellaire attorney was charged with conspiring to defraud the United States, four counts of willfully filing false tax returns, six counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation and presentation of false tax returns, two counts of witness tampering, and one count of obstructing justice. The magistrate judge ordered that Stern be detained pending trial, and the district court affirmed. Stern appeals the detention order.
Court records on Stern’s case indicate that after a careful review of the record, they conclude that the evidence as a whole supports the district court’s detention order. At the detention hearing, the lead case agent from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) testified that the evidence from his investigation showed that Stern was engaged in a thirteen-year scheme to defraud the IRS. He further testified that Stern, even after being civilly audited and made to pay fines and penalties in 2010, continued to defraud the IRS and modified the scheme to avoid detection by issuing false tax documents and fraudulent checks. The evidence also showed that Stern hid his law firm’s client and financial files in a storage unit that was rented under an illegal alien’s name. After Stern learned that he was under a federal criminal investigation, he requested case runners (Marcus Esquivel and Frederick Morris) to destroy any records related to their business dealings with him. Esquivel subsequently destroyed a computer and paper records, and Morris and Stern shredded Morris’s invoices to the Stern Law Firm. Stern also caused the filing of further fraudulent documents with the IRS. Stern told Morris that “he would do whatever it took to protect himself.” He confronted Morris in an intimidating manner, and Morris expressed fear for his and his family’s safety.
Stern also serviced the Valley with offices in McAllen, and more will come out of this case. Stern’s website reported that they had served about 30,000 personal injury cases.
DA Rodriguez emphasized and issued the following recommendation. People should gather name, phone number, and address of the person or persons soliciting a case before they call the district attorney’s office to initiate an investigation. “We are against breaking the law, and we are here to enforce it.” He said, “We need the public to report to us; help us get this information. By doing so, we can prosecute it, because the only way we can prosecute is if there’s an arrest,” he finalized.