Judge’s bribery trial to begin this week

McALLEN — One of the Rio Grande Valley’s most anticipated trials is set to begin this week.

Nearly 17 months after dozens of FBI agents descended on the offices and the home of former state District Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado in February 2018 in connection with a bribery investigation, the trial against the former Valley judge is set to get underway.

Jury selection is set for Tuesday with the jury trial expected to begin Wednesday.

Initially, the trial was set for Houston, but Delgado’s attorney’s successfully fought for it to be held in McAllen, where the government has alleged the former judge took bribes, and after learning of the investigation, obstructed justice by attempting to cover his tracks.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennet, who made the trip to the Rio Grande Valley to preside over the trial, held Delgado’s final pretrial hearing, where both the government and defense went over final motions related to the case.

Government prosecutors allege that for roughly a decade, while Delgado was a state district judge, he took bribes from attorneys in cases held in his court in exchange for favorable “judicial considerations.”

According to the complaint filed against Delgado, FBI agents began investigating allegations of bribery in November 2016.

Using a confidential source to establish its case against Delgado, the FBI spoke with a local attorney who has known Delgado for nearly 20 years and was referred to in the complaint as “CHS.”

The attorney-turned-informant was Noe Perez, a longtime Edinburg attorney.

In May 2018, Perez pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

His sentencing is set for August in Houston, and he may be eligible for a reduced sentence given his cooperation as an informant from June 2016 until Delgado’s arrest in February 2018.

Perez will take the stand during Delgado’s trial as the government’s star witness.

The complaint details how Perez told FBI agents that the pair would set up the meeting by telephone, and that the bribe payment would take place in person, often utilizing “coded” language to communicate.

Perez also told federal agents about two recent instances in the last two years in which Delgado placed his clients on bond after paying the bribe.

“For over a year, ‘CHS’ has worked with the FBI as a confidential human source. In that capacity CHS participated in numerous consensually recorded phone calls and in-person meetings with Delgado,” the complaint stated.

The document also alleges that Delgado accepted on at least two occasions money that was marked by the government in the amount of $520 in exchange for favorable judicial consideration on cases in his court.

On Jan. 29, 2018, the complaint alleges Delgado accepted a white envelope with $5,500 in cash that was delivered to him at a restaurant. The complaint further alleges that Delgado texted Perez asking him to take back the cash and give him a check as a “campaign contribution.”

“The campaign contribution needs to be by check,” the complaint read. “I need to return that to you so you can write me a check. Sorry about confusion, I though(t) you knew and I did not open envelope till today.”

FBI agents believe Delgado was attempting to cover up the bribe in the text message to Perez.

“… (The) envelope was too large to be mistaken as a check,” the complaint read. “Finally, I further believe that Delgado may have learned of this investigation, or now suspects that CHS is cooperating with law enforcement, and this text message is an attempt by Delgado to conceal his bribery activities.”

Delgado has only made one comment about the charges against him.

Following his initial appearance in federal court after his arrest in early February, Delgado said he would let the judicial process take its course.

“In America we have the presumption of innocence, and I intend to let the judicial process take its course,” Delgado said as he walked away from members of the media.

Delgado, who was suspended by the state following his arrest, resigned from the bench April 30, 2018.

At the time, the longtime judge said he believed it was in “the public’s best interest that the 93rd District Court continues to operate.”

Prior to his arrest, and subsequent indictment on bribery and obstruction charges, Delgado, presided over the 93rd state District Court for more than 16 years after being elected to the bench in 2001.

His time on the bench, however, wasn’t without problems, personal and professional.

In 2002, he nearly lost his job following a DWI arrest in Edinburg. In 2005, the charges were dropped, but Delgado was re-indicted on evading arrest and misuse of information charges later that year.

He’s also had his share of tragedies during his tenure. In February 2017, Delgado’s son, former Hidalgo County Assistant District Attorney Ricco Diaman Delgado, was found dead in an Austin creek. Before his death, the judge’s son had several run-ins with law enforcement as well.

In 2007, another one of Delgado’s sons, Roman David Delgado, died in a car crash in McAllen at the age of 16.

The government is also seeking more than $21,000 in assets and property related to the bribery allegations.

In all, Delgado, 66, who could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if convicted, faces eight counts against him, one count of conspiracy, three counts each of federal program bribery, travel act violations, and one count of obstruction of justice.