Tony Buzbee.
Photo: Tom Callins

The Mexican state of Veracruz believes former Gov. Javier Duarte De Ochoa stole nearly $3 billion from its coffers and used it to buy luxury real estate all over the United States—including several homes in the Houston area. So they’ve turned to Houston trial lawyer Tony Buzbee to get some of that money back.

Duarte served as Veracruz’s governor from 2010 until 2016. Duarte fled to Guatemala as a fugitive as corruption allegations against him mounted, and was later extradited to Mexico where he is currently jailed.

At the request of Veracruz’s current governor, Miguel Angel Yunes, Buzbee recently filed a petition in Harris County District Court seeking to recover some $75 million Duarte and his associates used to purchase real estate. The petition accuses Duarte and several of his associates of theft and conversion, and seeks to seize homes and office complexes in suburban Houston that were purchased with money earmarked for Veracruz social programs.

“The money stolen by Duarte rightfully belong to the people of the State of Veracruz,” the petition alleges. “The state thus files this and other actions to recoup those funds stolen by Duarte and those acting in concert with him. Veracruz also seeks to recover assets purchased with such stolen funds.”

Buzbee said the lawsuit is the first of many he expects to file in an effort to recover money Duarte and his friends spent on North American real estate.

“We expect to file suits in Florida—there’s an $8 million mansion there. There are condos in New York,” Buzbee said. “Right now we’re starting in Texas and getting a handle on that. There are houses he bought in Houston that ranged from $250,000 to $2 million.”

The lawsuit names the registered property owner and limited liability corporations as defendants—all of whom have connections to Duarte.

“I will expect nobody will show up, I’ll get a default judgment and send the money back,” Buzbee said of the real estate owned by the defendants. “There were all kinds of crazy things done. Some of them, they just brought a suitcase full of money over and bought property.”

But other property was purchased through traditional money transfers involving banks and real estate companies, which will become an issue in future litigation he said.

“There are some businesses that are kind of puckered right now because they did business with these people,” Buzbee said. “We’re going to get that money back.’’

Buzbee was recently in the news after a woman allegedly destroyed $300,000 in fine art at his house after a first date.