Disgraced ex-judge Rodolfo Delgado will be in his 70s when his 60-month prison term expires.
Nearly 18 months after FBI agents raided the Hidalgo County Courthouse looking to remove evidence from Delgado’s courtroom and office in connection with a bribery investigation, the former judge was sentenced to prison.
Delgado, 66, was sentenced Wednesday afternoon, more than two months after jurors found the ex-judge guilty in a case involving bribes that he accepted from a local attorney in exchange for favorable consideration in his courtroom.
Government prosecutors recommended Delgado be sentenced to the high end of the sentencing guideline range, between 78 and 97 months, because as one prosecutor surmised, the message that needs to be established is that “justice is not for sale, and it cannot be for sale.”
U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett handed down the sentence on Delgado hours after punishing the government’s star witness, Edinburg-based attorney turned informant, Noe L. Perez.
During that hearing, Bennett sentenced the attorney to a 24-month prison term.
But Bennett, underscoring Delgado’s current age and medical condition, served the ex-judge with a 48-month prison sentence on counts 1, 5, 6 and 7, and to the aforementioned 60 months in prison, on the remaining four counts, to be served concurrently.
The sentence came after a lengthy statement from Delgado, who was not heard from during the trial aside from the recorded audio and video recordings presented during testimony, because he opted not to testify.
Delgado, who spoke for roughly 40 minutes, began by stating he respected the jurors’ decision, and the judicial process throughout the trial.
Despite recent court filings in which Delgado maintained his innocence, he admitted to having inappropriate ex parte conversations with Perez, and of taking money from Perez.
“I am ashamed of what (jurors) heard, of what came out of my mouth,” Delgado said.
He went into how he’s lost his job, how as a result of the conviction he will lose his pension, his social security benefits and his house.
Delgado, who had been serving as a judge in Hidalgo County since the late 80s, was elected and re-elected multiple times to the state district court beginning in 2000, showed remorse for his actions.
“I apologize to the community, and the general public who put their faith in me,” the ex-judge said.
In support of the former judge were at least four rows filled with family, friends and former court staff who worked inside Delgado’s 93nd state District Courtroom for more than a decade.
“I have shamed myself in front of everyone… I apologize to the people who are present here today,” Delgado said.
But he defended his character, saying he was not “rotten to the core,” as he claimed government prosecutors had painted him, but instead, he said the bad acts he had committed in the last several years were during a period of strife in his life.
Delgado conveyed that experiencing the trauma of his son Rico’s substance abuse addiction and subsequent death, coupled with medical issues, led him to make the decisions that led to his current situation.
“The government paints a picture of me as rotten to the core, but I was proud of my position at one point — it was not always this way,” Delgado said. “I admit my errors and harm done to the criminal justice system.”
Delgado was surprisingly forthcoming about the perceived stain his actions had cast on all of the Valley, taking responsibility for his actions.
“These actions were mine. (The people) ought not be besmirched,” Delgado said. “We are good people, the people of South Texas. I was a good person, I was a good judge — I succumbed.”
He said he hopes to pay his debt to society, and come home a changed man.
Bennett, being in the unique position of having to punish someone he referred to as a “brother,” a fellow judge, didn’t mince words, and was forceful during the hearing, but careful at the same time to acknowledge Delgado’s faults, as a person, who is not perfect.
Bennett, who characterized Delgado’s conduct, as “tearing at the fabric of society,” said that when he met with jurors after Delgado’s trial — a common practice — he had never encountered jurors who were as “adamant” and “angry” as this jury group was.
“Because they thought that the conduct they saw in evidence (during the trial) had become the way of doing business in the place they call the Valley — and the public wants it stopped,” Bennett said.
After the sentencing hearing, officials with the FBI said in a news release that the court’s decision would send a strong message to any public official who decides to act in their interests over the public’s interest.
“As this case illustrates, the FBI will tirelessly pursue those who betray the public trust. We can only hold corrupt officials accountable if people refuse to accept this behavior and are willing to cooperate and come forward with information,” Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs of the FBI’s San Antonio Division said.
As was the case with Perez earlier in the day, Delgado was allowed to remain on bond, pending a self-surrender date that will be provided to Delgado at a future time.