McALLEN, Texas (CN) – A longtime Texas judge was sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday in connection with a bribery scandal that brought down the once-prominent Democrat’s two-decade judicial career.
Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado, 66, was tried in McAllen federal court and convicted in July of accepting cash bribes from a South Texas attorney in exchange for favorable rulings inside the Hidalgo County courtroom he presided over for more than 18 years – the 93rd District Court.
Delgado, who won a seat on Texas’ 13th Court of Appeals in last year’s elections, resigned from the bench eight days after a jury found him guilty of eight charges including bribery, conspiracy and obstruction. He stood in front of a packed courtroom full of his family and close supporters Wednesday afternoon as U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett read his sentence.
“It tears at the very fabric of our society,” Bennett said just before sentencing Delgado to federal prison for 60 months. “It gives air and weight to the people who look upon the court in suspicion that it does matter who you know and that justice can be purchased.”
The disgraced former judge – who won last year’s election over a Republican opponent even with an indictment hanging over him, and after being removed from the 93rd District Court – apologized to the community for his actions. He told the judge that he was “a weak man,” before adding “it does not justify what I did. As a consequence I will lose my freedom.”
“I put myself in this situation,” Delgado told Bennett. “The government paints a picture of me as rotten to the core but many factors led to the end of my career. I admit my errors, these actions were mine. I succumbed and I will pay the price.”
Bennett also ordered Delgado to serve two years of supervised release after his prison term, participate in alcohol and drug abuse and mental health programs, and pay $800 in special assessment fees to the court.
Edinburg attorney Noe Perez, who became an FBI informant and key witness, testified during Delgado’s five-day trial that the bribes usually ranged from $250 to $5,500, and that on one occasion he gave Delgado a truck valued at $15,000. Perez was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison.
Defense attorney Michael McCrum of San Antonio asked the judge to consider Delgado’s service to the community, current age and health, and the personal family losses he has suffered as mitigating factors.
“A crooked judge is a crooked judge,” Bennett interrupted. “The public wants this to stop.”
Delgado, an attorney licensed in 1982 who remained free on bond, had long been a fixture of Hidalgo County politics before he was convicted. He began presiding over criminal and civil cases in the county’s 93rd District Court after winning an election in 2000, according to the Texas Secretary of State.
But the former judge has found himself on the other side of the law before.
Shortly after first winning his judgeship, Delgado was almost forced off the bench while fighting DWI charges, but a visiting judge dismissed the case in 2005, court records show.
He was re-indicted on charges of evading arrest and misuse of official information connected to the DWI arrest, but those charges too were dropped. Delgado had been suspended by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2006 with pay pending the outcome of that criminal case.
According to court documents, he had also been convicted in May 1991 on a misdemeanor assault charge.
The embattled judge has also faced tough personal troubles: his 32-year-old son, a former Hidalgo County prosecutor with a history of drug abuse, was found dead along an Austin hiking trail last year. Another one of his four sons died in a car accident in 2007 at age 16.
But prosecutors said in a sentencing memo that Delgado’s misconduct extended beyond just accepting bribes and improper gifts from Perez. Beginning early in his career, they say, Delgado had used his position to give preferential treatment to friends, violate judicial ethics and accept bribes from at least five other attorneys.
“We are not perfect – no judge, no person – we all have our faults,” Bennett told Delgado. “You are not the first to be convicted of such crimes. But each time we lose a little something.”
Sarah Flores contributed to this report.