Motion for venue change denied in ex-judge’s federal bribery case

McALLEN — The federal trial of a former state judge accused of taking bribes in exchange for judicial favors in his courtroom will remain in Houston, court records show.

U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett ruled that the trial for Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado will be held in a Houston courtroom when the trial gets underway in February.

The decision comes months after Delgado’s attorney, Michael W. McCrum, filed a motion to have the court reconsider where the trial would be held.

McCrum, a defense attorney based in San Antonio, argued in an August filing that Delgado, who is accused of accepting cash bribes from an Edinburg attorney in exchange for favorable judicial considerations inside Delgado’s courtroom, should have his trial held in McAllen, where it is alleged Delgado committed the offenses.

Delgado faces eight federal charges related to allegations that he accepted bribes from attorneys and others in exchange for judicial favors in his courtroom.

Delgado now faces three counts of federal program bribery, three counts of violating the federal Travel Act for using a phone to broker the bribes, one count of conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and the obstruction of justice charge, court records show.

In court records, the government alleges Delgado accepted cash bribes from “Attorney A” — later identified as Edinburg attorney Noe Perez, long rumored to be the informant in the government’s investigation who flipped on Delgado.

Perez pleaded guilty in May to one federal bribery charge, court records show.

The government alleges that Delgado solicited and accepted cash from Perez in at least one case involving a federal program.

Perez, who has more than 16 years of practicing criminal and civil law in Texas, admitted to “knowingly and willfully, conspiring with Delgado to commit offenses against the United States” — this included bribery related to federally funded programs “to corruptly give, offer and agree to give things of value to Judge Delgado,” states the criminal information document against Perez.

The document further referred to Delgado as an agent of the state of Texas who received federal benefits in excess of $10,000.

The government also alleges that about a year into their alleged conspiracy, in November 2008, Perez acquired a $15,000 pickup truck for Delgado in exchange for benefit in a case involving a client with the initials “E.M.” that was pending in Delgado’s court docket.

Perez is due back in a Houston federal courtroom Dec. 6 for sentencing in connection with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, court records show. He faces a maximum five years in prison, and up to a $250,000 fine.

In the early August filing, Delgado’s attorney cited public policy concerns, the location and availability of his client’s witnesses for trial, and what McCrum says would be a lack of a support system for Delgado if the trial were to be held in Houston.

The government’s prosecutors, who are opposed to a change of location for the trial, responded in their own 27-page filing on Aug. 31, in which they cited Delgado’s high profile and the media attention his case has received as some of the reasons why holding the trial in Houston would be best, arguing that his status in McAllen would make picking a jury for his trial “impossible.”

In the Sept. 5 response, McCrum characterizes the government’s assertions in their response as “fallacies,” and addresses each one.

“The government’s response is not only notable for what it asserts, but what it fails to address. Its assertions do not fully convey pertinent facts, and its failure to address important factors is telling,” the filing states.

The government argued that Delgado’s high profile would make selecting a jury almost impossible in the McAllen division.

“The government anticipated that this case would garner significant media attention in the McAllen division, and it has,” the court record states. “This coverage, coupled with the defendant’s profile in the community and status as an active candidate for judicial office, suggests that picking a jury without prior knowledge of the defendant or his charges will be challenging, if not impossible.”

But McCrum argued previous trials in which there was a high-profile defendant didn’t stop the government from trying it in McAllen.

“The government fails to address, however, how such an impediment did not affect the propriety of the government’s decision in filing other cases involving public figures in the situs of their public status,” the record states.

He also challenged the government’s argument that because Delgado has made frequent trips outside Hidalgo County, to visit his sons and his attorney, his travel to Houston for the trial would not be a burden.

Despite his reasons, the court ruled in the government’s favor, and the trial will proceed in Bennett’s court once the trial is set to begin.