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A former South Texas judge who originally declared his innocence in a more than $250,000 bribery and extortion investigation hours later changed his plea and confessed to accepting payoffs.

Ex-State District Judge Abel C. Limas was arrested Thursday after the indictment in the racketeering investigation was unsealed.

Limas, 57, initially pleaded not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Felix Recio. Later Thursday he appeared before U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen and pleaded guilty in a plea agreement.

A federal grand jury indicted Limas on Tuesday accusing him of soliciting and accepting bribes and extorting as much as $257,000 from people with cases before his court, their attorneys and representatives in exchange for favorable rulings.

The former police officer, who served as a judge from 2001 through 2008, is free on a $50,000 unsecured bond.

Sentencing is set for July 5. The sentence for racketeering ranges from 10 years in prison to life behind bars, plus fines.

The indictment also accuses four attorneys and another person of involvement in the scam. They have not been indicted. The 17-page indictment did not name the lawyers and the person accused of acting as the go-between.

The U.S. attorney's office plans to seek forfeiture of at least $257,000 from Limas, who declined comment after his guilty plea.


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