TX lawyer accused of offering legal services in exchange for sex. Law License taken away.
Published; Dec. 20, 2019
FLORESVILLE — A Wilson County jury on Tuesday found a former San Antonio attorney guilty of having sex with clients in exchange for legal services.
Mark Henry Benavides was immediately taken into custody Tuesday night in Floresville, where the trial was heard.
It took the panel nearly four hours to find Benavides, 48, guilty on all six counts.
The punishment phase is expected to begin at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Wilson County District Court in Floresville. He faces 25 to 99 years or life in prison. He has applied for probation, according to court records.
Benavides was accused of continuous trafficking of persons, a first-degree felony. Six former clients he represented as a court-appointed defense attorney in prostitution and drug cases in Bexar County testified that he coerced them into having videotaped sexual encounters with promises to keep them out of jail, get their cases dismissed or lessen their legal problems.
Prosecutor Jay Norton began his closing argument Tuesday by playing snippets of a police interview video in which Benavides was seen and heard telling officers that the case seemed “made up,” and that it could derail his political career because he was running for state district judge.
“The system let each and every one of these girls down,” he told the jury. “This is an opportunity for the system to say we were wrong.”
The jury heard testimony from all six accusers during the trial, which began last week. They said Benavides took them to a motel for sex on days when they had court dates and that sometimes the sexual encounters occurred at the Bexar County Courthouse in witness and jury rooms before they were to appear before judges presiding over the cases.
Norton reminded the panel that there were 495 motel receipts that matched many of the dates on 67 of the videos that were shown in the courtroom and that those dates also coincided with the women’s court dates.
“These girls are chosen because of who they are and their vulnerabilities,” Norton said. “He’s a master manipulator of the system.”
In her closing argument, defense attorney Liza Rodriguez said the relations that Benavides had with the women were consensual and that many of the things he is accused of may not be ethical but weren’t illegal.
“Attorneys having sex with clients is unethical. Immoral. Frowned upon. Not highly suggested,” she told the jury. “But it’s not illegal. Infidelities are not illegal. … Not against man’s law.”
Defense attorney Monica E. Guerrero told the panel in her closing argument to look at all of Benavides’ accusers.
“They are all prostitutes. This is what they do for a living,” she said.
Guerrero criticized the prosecutors for editing the DVDs shown only to the jury, saying that Benavides had friendly relations with the women and that if the panel viewed the unedited versions they would have seen the relationships progress.
“They went and engaged in consensual sex,” she told the jury, adding that if her client was guilty of anything, it was prostitution.
In an emotional closing argument, prosecutor Meredith Chacon told the panel that if Benavides committed prostitution with the women, he also committed trafficking because he always picked them up and took them to court and to a motel to have sex.
“Who decided where? Who paid? Who determined what positions? What they had to say? He did. He also determined how the videos end: ‘Say bye,’” she told the jury. “Find him guilty on each and every count.”
She called Benavides “a pimp in a suit.”
The case is being heard in Wilson County on a change of venue requested by one of his defense lawyers to avoid having the trial in the same building, the Cadena-Reeves Justice Center in San Antonio, where Benavides is alleged to have had sex with his clients.
In March, Benavides was indicted again on a charge of continuous trafficking of persons in connection with allegations involving four women between 2012 and 2015.
With that indictment, Benavides has five open cases against him. In addition to charge in the current trial, he faces two charges of sexual assault of a child, one charge of sexual assault and one other charge of continuous trafficking of persons, according to court records. Each case is expected to be tried separately.