Videos take center stage first day of ex-judge’s trial

McALLEN — The government’s case against a former state district judge accused of taking bribes began with a recorded video of the judge accepting an envelope full of cash from a local attorney.

That’s how the prosecution began its case in chief against Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado on Wednesday. During Roberto Guerra’s opening statement, jurors were shown a video recorded by local attorney-turned-informant for the FBI, Noe Perez.

In May 2018, Perez, an Edinburg attorney, pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, according to court records. He faces a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Perez, who was arrested Tuesday night prior to his appearance in court Wednesday, is scheduled for sentencing in August in a Houston federal court and may be eligible for a reduced sentence given his cooperation as a government informant from June 2016 until Delgado’s arrest in February 2018.

In the video, Delgado, the now-former judge for the 93rd state District Court, meets Perez inside the attorney’s vehicle outside a north McAllen restaurant. During the meeting, Perez hands over an inch-thick white envelope containing $5,500.

Days later, after Delgado learned of a federal investigation against him, the government claims he sent a text message to Perez in an attempt to cover his tracks, telling the attorney that the envelope he gave him with cash inside needed to be in the form of a check to be in line with campaign finance regulations.

The government stated they would present to the jurors evidence that Delgado accepted cash and, in one instance, a pickup truck worth more than $15,000 from a local attorney in exchange for favorable consideration from the court.

The defense, represented by Michael McCrum and Terry Shamsie, also provided an opening statement.

Shamsie said a client who had solicited Perez’s services, recorded Perez saying he had influence over judges, and that the client could receive favorable results if Perez were paid more.

This client, who had complained about Perez to the FBI, was able to record a conversation that alluded to the aforementioned “influence.”

Armed with the recording, the FBI confronted Perez, who in turn agreed to work with them to take down Delgado.

The defense said Perez had financial and personal issues that led him to serve as an informant for the government and that any payments given to the judge were for legitimate purposes, such as money for a foundation founded by Delgado in memory of a son who died in a car crash in 2007, or campaign contributions made for the ex-judge’s various campaigns throughout the years.

Another way Perez would allegedly pay the judge would be during home visits, in which the attorney would say he was visiting to buy wood from him, but also discuss cases in Delgado’s court.

Perez testified these visits were convenient for him, where he could actually buy wood which helped him “disguise” the reason for being at the judge’s residence.

Throughout the roughly six hours of time spent on the stand, Perez was asked about his dealings with Delgado, beginning in 2008, when Perez gave Delgado a truck.

Perez testified he was expecting to be paid in exchange for the truck, and that the judge never did. However, Perez believed it helped him with Delgado in his courtroom.

The first day of testimony focused mainly on the several interactions Delgado and Perez had after November 2016, which was after he began recording conversations with Delgado.

Throughout most of the day, jurors were played videos of those interactions, showing the former judge in his own words.

Perez, who was the only witnesses called to the stand during the first day of testimony, will be back on the stand Monday morning, when the defense will have an opportunity to cross-examine him during day two of testimony.

Delgado faces eight charges, one count of conspiracy, three counts each of federal program bribery, travel act violations, and one count of obstruction of justice, court records show.

If convicted, the former judge could receive up to 10 years in federal prison.

lzazueta@themonitor.com