Before the local district attorney dubbed him “the biggest con man in the history of Nueces County,” Mauricio Celis led the life of a high-powered plaintiff’s lawyer. At the time of his arrest, in November 2007, at the age of 36, he owned a Rolls-Royce, a Bentley, and a BMW; he traveled by private jet; and he owned a stake in the Havana Club, the go-to spot for Corpus Christi’s bank, oil, and gas executives. As a founding partner of CGT Law Group International—which boasted offices in eight cities, including Beverly Hills, Miami, and Mexico City—Celis made more than enough money to spread around. He contributed nearly half a million dollars to Democratic political campaigns from 2002 to 2007, and his largesse extended to the local diocese, to which he donated $100,000 for its newly established Catholic high school. He was a rainmaker, procuring lucrative personal-injury cases that he referred out to South Texas litigators, and he counted Corpus Christi’s biggest power brokers among his friends. There was only one problem, which Celis had skillfully managed to work around: He was not actually a lawyer.
That Celis was an impostor might never have come to light if not for a rival personal-injury lawyer, Thomas J. Henry. “I had heard about Celis’s basic background, which did not include finishing college, much