SAN ANTONIO – A local defense attorney was indicted Wednesday on 35 charges of sexual assault and compelling prostitution.
According to the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney's Office, attorney Mark Benavides, 46, was arrested in November after a joint investigation between the District Attorney's Office and the San Antonio Police Department.
The investigation began after a report in 2012 that Benavides had coerced a client to perform sex acts on him. New allegations were also made by a client who asked for a new trial in 2015.
The DA's office said the complaints were enough to warrant an investigation, and several other women came forward and claimed that Benavides had coerced them into performing sexual acts and that he videotaped the encounters.
More women also came forward after Benavides' arrest.
One of the women was represented by Benavides in a drunken driving case last fall. During a hearing in that case, she testified that she and Benavides had sex just before she entered a plea in that case.
“He had me go back in the jury room and we had sex, and then afterward, we washed up in the bathroom off the jury room,” she testified.
The woman claimed that it wasn’t the first time Benavides asked for sex in exchange for legal representation.
“He would ask me to have sexual relations with him,” she said. “He said that I had to keep my attorney happy.”
Benavides denied the woman’s claims.
“It’s very frustrating when you try to help somebody, hold their hand through the process, and then they turn around and stab you in the back by making stuff up about you,” Benavides said.
Evidence collected from the motel where the victims said the activity occurred corroborated their stories, and each victim was able to identify Benavides, authorities said.
The victims reported feeling that they had no choice and that if they hadn't performed the sex acts, they would have gone back to jail or Benavides would not have given them proper legal representation.
The DA's Office said nine victims are identified in the indictment.
Bexar County District Attorney Nicholas “Nico” LaHood said he could not discuss the grand jury testimony since it is confidential. But he said he felt they had a solid, well-investigated case.
“We just corroborated stories of the complainants, the victims, with objective evidence,” LaHood said. “So we weren’t just going off of just complainant witnesses ... it was corroborated by law enforcement.”
The charges against Benavides are second-degree felonies, each punishable up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The grand jury recommended a $500,000 bond for Benavides.