McALLEN — Disgraced ex-judge Rodolfo Delgado will be in his 70s when his 60-month prison term expires.
Nearly 18 months after FBI agents raided the Hidalgo County Courthouse looking to remove evidence from Delgado’s courtroom and office in connection with a bribery investigation, the former judge was sentenced to prison.
Delgado, 66, was sentenced Wednesday afternoon, more than two months after jurors found the ex-judge guilty of multiple bribery charges.
U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett handed down the sentence on Delgado hours after punishing the government’s star witness, Edinburg-based attorney turned informant, Noe L. Perez.
Government prosecutors during the trial argued that their star witness, Perez and Delgado didn’t quite establish a direct “quid pro quo” bribery scheme, but instead there was an understanding between the two, specifically during instances where Perez would overpay for firewood at the judge’s home.
This is something Perez testified he hoped would lead to favorable consideration in the judge’s court.
For his part, Delgado’s attorney, Michael McCrum, argued that exact point, citing the government’s lack of clear “pay for favor” evidence, and stating that his client never took anything for any actionable results or favors in his courtroom.
But jurors, after a four-day trial, and roughly 10 hours of deliberations, were clearly convinced of Delgado’s guilt, seemingly placing a large amount of weight on the government’s evidence, specifically the video and audio recordings of Perez’s and Delgado’s encounters, in which jurors could hear in his own words how Delgado spoke to Perez.
The recorded encounters with Perez and Delgado proved crucial to the government’s case.
Perez, who lived near Delgado’s Edinburg home, would drive to the property under the guise of buying firewood, sometimes arriving with a case of beer, which on occasion also had anywhere from $250 to $260 cash inside.
One of the recorded meetings helped the government prove the obstruction charge against Delgado, who allegedly attempted to cover his tracks with Perez after learning of a potential FBI investigation into him in January 2018.
Prosecutors argued that it was clear in the text message that Delgado sent to Perez on Jan. 29, 2018, just four days after Delgado learned of a possible federal investigation into him, was intended to make it appear as though the money that he had received from Perez nearly two weeks earlier, needed to be in check form for it to be a campaign contribution.
The recording shown to jurors from one of the four recorded meetings between the two men, this one on Jan. 17, 2018, shows Perez inside his pickup truck meeting with Delgado in the parking lot of a north McAllen restaurant.
During this meeting, Perez gives the name of a client and the client’s court case number to Delgado, and asks the judge to help him with it; Delgado agrees and is handed a half-inch to inch-thick white envelope containing $5,500 in cash.
This was important to the government’s case as it argued that after Delgado learns of the investigation into him, he sent a message to Perez, stating he would have to return the envelope full of cash in exchange for a check, because he could not accept that much cash for a campaign contribution, which wasn’t mentioned during the actual meeting.
Jurors, during the third day of testimony, were handed the envelope containing the $5,500 and allowed to touch it — the prosecution’s attempt to kill any notion that Delgado would have believed there was a check inside the envelope.
Prosecutors claimed this was clearly an attempt by Delgado to frame the interaction with Perez on Jan. 17 as legitimate.
“Good evening, please call me. The campaign contribution needs to be by check. I need to return that to you so you can write a check. Sorry about the confusion, I thought you knew and I did not open the envelope until today,” read the message sent on Jan. 29, 2018, from Delgado to Perez.
During the trial, state Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-Mission, testified that earlier that day, Jan. 29, he was called into Delgado’s chambers and was asked by the judge about a private conversation Guerra had with state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa.
Hinojosa had conveyed to Delgado the week before, on Jan. 25, 2018, during a social visit, that Guerra had told him that federal agents were looking at Delgado in connection with a “firewood” investigation.
According to ballotpedia,
In February 2018, Delgado was indicted on three counts of bribery and three counts of violating the Travel Act. He was charged at a later date with one count of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The indictment accused Delgado of asking for and accepting bribes in exchange for favorable rulings.
Delgado fought the charges in a trial:
Delgado was suspended without pay on March 1, 2018. He resigned from the Texas District 93 court on April 30, 2018. He was elected to the Texas Thirteenth District Court of Appeals on November 6, 2018. He took the oath of office in January 2019 but was suspended again later that month.
Delgado was convicted of three counts of bribery concerning the Travel Act and three counts of bribery concerning federal programs, one count of conspiracy, and one count of obstruction on July 11, 2019.