South Texas judge guilty on all counts in bribery trial

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A jury in McAllen on Thursday found former state District Judge Rodolfo Delgado guilty on all charges in connection with a decade of accepting bribes from a South Texas attorney turned FBI informant.

Delgado was charged in February 2018 with accepting three bribes totaling more than $6,000 from attorney Noe Perez, who is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 15 for bribing Delgado for favorable treatment for his clients.

The former judge for the 93rd District faces as much as 10 years in prison and up to $200,000 in fines on all the charges, including three felony counts of bribery. He remains free after posting a $250,000 bail. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 25.

Despite the federal charges against Delgado, voters elected him in November to serve on the state’s 13th Court of Appeals. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct, however, suspended him from the bench in January, before he took office. 

Jurors saw four videos, taken in secret, showing conversations between Delgado and Perez, including one showing Delgado taking an envelope later found to contain $5,500 in cash, according to a story by The Monitor, a McAllen newspaper not affiliated with The Texas Monitor.

While none of the videos showed cash changing hands, prosecutors said they established that the judge and the lawyer had an understanding that money and property were in play for favors from Delgado, the story said.

“The bribery of a judge may be the worst break of the public’s trust in government,” federal prosecutor Ryan Patrick told The Monitor. “Rudy Delgado used his position to enrich himself. He didn’t just tip the scales of justice, he knocked it over with a wad of cash and didn’t look back.”

During the trial, which began last week, prosecutors said Perez bribed Delgado multiple times with cash and one time with a $15,000 pickup truck.

Delgado had at first approached Perez about buying the pickup truck, but Perez gave it to him, the attorney testified, because he was too intimidated as a relatively new lawyer to ask a judge for compensation. Perez testified, however, that he realized the gift of the truck established “credit” in court with Delgado, according to The Monitor story.

Over the years, Perez testified he made several visits to Delgado’s Edinburg home, ostensibly to buy firewood but also to discuss with the judge case outcomes for his clients. Perez said he’d arrive carrying a case of beer into which he’d inserted $250 in cash.

Throughout the trial, however, prosecutors offered no specific examples of favorable outcomes for Perez clients, according to the story.

The FBI began its investigation of Delgado in November 2016. Jurors learned from state Rep. R.D. Guerra, D-Mission, that he had found out that FBI agents were doing a “firewood” investigation” of Delgado in January 2018. Guerra testified that he told state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, about the investigation and that Hinojosa subsequently passed the information to Delgado. 

Prosecutors told the jury that after taking one particular bribe from Perez, the judge learned the FBI was investigating him and that Delgado then contacted Perez, asking for a check equal to the cash he had been given so that the amount could be considered a political donation.

A grand jury in Houston indicted Delgado in March 2018 on the bribery counts and three counts of violating the federal Travel Act, which makes it illegal to use the telephone to commit a crime. 

Delgado resigned as district judge in May 2018 but maintained his innocence. While free on a $100,000 bail, he continued a successful campaign for a seat on the 13th Court of Appeals. 

While one federal judge set a trial date in Houston, a different judge last month granted Delgado a change of venue to McAllen. Edinburg, Delgado’s hometown, is 340 miles from Houston but just 12 miles north of McAllen.

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].

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