McALLEN, Texas (CN) — A Texas judge faces decades in prison after a federal jury convicted him Thursday of taking bribes from an attorney, including a $15,000 pickup truck and an envelope stuffed with $5,500.
Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado, 65, of Edinburg, presided over the 93rd District Court in Hidalgo County for 17 years until he resigned after a federal grand jury returned a six-count indictment in February 2018 charging him with taking bribes from an attorney-turned FBI informant and star government witness.
Edinburg attorney Noe Perez testified during Delgado’s five-day trial that after a client paid for his services with a $15,000 pickup truck in 2008, Delgado learned of the deal and asked him about the truck’s condition, the Brownsville Herald reported.
Perez testified that Delgado took the pickup and never paid him for it. He said he didn’t ask for payment because he felt intimidated by Delgado and wanted to stay in Delgado’s good graces, as the judge handled many of his clients’ cases.
Federal prosecutors identified Perez as “Attorney A” in Delgado’s charging documents.
“Attorney A acquiesced in Delgado’s taking the truck in exchange for favorable consideration on a case,” Delgado’s third superseding indictment states.
Prosecutors initially charged Delgado with three counts of bribery and three counts of violating the Travel Act, which forbids the use of a facility used in interstate commerce, in this case a telephone, to set up bribes.
Prosecutors say Delgado discussed bribes on the phone with Perez, and accepted bribes from him, from November 2016 to January 2018.
They added a conspiracy charge involving the pickup and an obstruction of justice charge in subsequent superseding indictments.
FBI agents got their smoking gun when Perez agreed to wear a wire and video camera for a January 2018 meeting with Delgado at a restaurant in McAllen.
Prosecutors played the footage for jurors, showing Delgado get in Perez’s car in the restaurant parking lot and take an envelope stuffed with $5,500 from Perez, the Herald reported.
Delgado asked Perez to write down his client’s name and case number on a scrap of paper, according to Delgado’s criminal complaint.
The next day, the FBI says in the complaint, Delgado released Perez’s client from custody on a personal bond, for which no upfront payment was required.
Days later, prosecutors say, Delgado learned of the investigation and tried to cover his tracks.
He sent Perez a text message stating: “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,” according to the third superseding indictment.
Prosecutors told the jury Delgado had asked Perez for campaign contributions in the past, so he tried to portray the restaurant parking lot transaction as campaign fundraising.
But there had been no mention of campaign donations in a phone conversation between Perez and Delgado, overheard by the FBI, in which they set up the restaurant meeting.
Prosecutors let jurors handle an envelope filled with 50 $100 bills and 25 $20 bills, the same currency Delgado accepted from Perez, to show it was implausible that Delgado believed it contained a check, the Herald reported.
Delgado’s obstruction charge came from this attempted coverup.
Prosecutors also presented evidence that Delgado released two of Perez’s clients on personal bonds after Perez paid him bribes of $260 in December 2016 and November 2017.
Delgado’s defense attorney Michael McCrum called Delgado’s wife to the stand to testify about their family tragedies.
She testified that their son, former Hidalgo County prosecutor Ricco Delgado, was found dead in a creek next to a hiking trail in Austin in 2017 after battling substance abuse addiction, the Herald reported. He was 32.
Another of the couple’s sons, Ramon Delgado, died in a car wreck in 2007 wreck at age 16.
But the sympathy card did not work with the jury, which found Delgado guilty of all eight counts.
He remains free on bond pending his Sept. 25 sentencing. U.S. District Judge Alfred Bennett ordered him not to leave Hidalgo County, except to travel to McCrum’s office in San Antonio.
Even with the indictment hanging over him Delgado, a Democrat, was elected to a seat on the Texas 13th Court of Appeals in November 2018.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct suspended him without pay from that position in January.