- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 22 (UPI) — A brother of former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales agreed Wednesday to plead guilty to making an extortion threat against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez in last year's election.

Michael Morales, a 41-year-old San Antonio music producer, agreed to plead guilty to one count of interstate communication of an extortionate threat, according to U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton.

Morales admitted that between Oct. 11 and Oct. 21, 2002, he used the fictitious name of Wendel Smith in one or more interstate phone calls and fax transmissions in an attempt to extort $280,000 from the Sanchez campaign, Sutton said.

Morales is expected to formally enter his guilty plea in federal court in Austin within the next few weeks. He could be sentenced to 2 years in prison and fined $250,000.

Morales allegedly threatened to reveal information about a crime Sanchez had allegedly committed 30 years ago and the campaign alerted federal authorities. The allegation has never been substantiated.

John Pinckney, Morales' attorney, said his client agreed to the plea agreement to get the incident over.

Dan Morales lost to Sanchez last March in a bitter race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and then Morales endorsed Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who went on to defeat Sanchez in November.

Dan Morales told The Dallas Morning News the allegation was brought to his attention during the campaign but it was never adequately corroborated. Michael worked on his brother's campaign and had access to that file, the newspaper reported.

Dan Morales said he supports his brother but not his actions in this case.

"It's bizarre," he said. "Obviously we are very disappointed to learn of Mike's actions and are saddened that he will have to bear some very serious consequences. Mike made a very big mistake."

After the March primary, a caller using the same phony named called the Perry campaign offering similar information on Sanchez, Perry aides said. They said they never responded to the offer but the caller later told the Sanchez campaign he was offered a $70,000 a year job, The News reported.

Pinckney did not deny his client contacted the Perry campaign but he said there was nothing illegal and it is not part of the plea agreement.

The Sanchez campaign had little to say about the deal.

"The campaign cooperated fully with authorities in this matter," Sanchez spokesman Mark Sanders said. "We look forward to the resolution and whatever decision law enforcement makes."

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