Ex-sheriff’s deputy serving money laundering sentence avoids appeal dismissal

A former Hidalgo County Precinct 1 constable candidate and sheriff’s deputy serving a 12-year prison sentence for money laundering had his appeal re-opened after his pro se motions from prison arrived at the McAllen federal courthouse.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane vacated his Oct. 17 order dismissing 54-year-old Robert Ricardo Maldonado’s federal appeal after the inmate successfully filed a pro se motion asking Crane to vacate his dismissal.

The motion, however, wasn’t successful based on the complexities of the law or because of a spirited legal argument.

Rather, Maldonado pointed out that his objections to a magistrate judge’s report recommending dismissal were timely filed. The court just didn’t receive them by the deadline for the filings of objections because they were sent through the postal service.

Crane had dismissed the appeal based on the report and recommendation because no objections had been filed.

The former lawman’s objections, however, were postmarked Oct. 11, but weren’t filed until Oct. 21 — three days after Crane ruled to dismiss.

Crane vacated his order of dismissal on Feb. 10, meaning U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter E. Ormsby will have to rule on Maldonado’s 15-page objection to Ormsby’s recommendation that his appeal be dismissed and that he be barred from appealing the dismissal.

Maldonado filed his pro se motion on June 7, 2016 seeking to have his sentence vacated or corrected after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction in 2015.

That motion makes several claims of ineffective assistance of counsel on the part of his attorney, Noe Perez, who is serving a two-year prison sentence after the man was convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Perez cooperated with the government in its investigation into former state District Judge Rudolfo “Rudy” Delgado, who is serving a five-year sentence after a jury convicted him of taking bribes from attorneys for favorable rulings.

As for Maldonado’s downfall, it began after Texas Department of Public Safety troopers pulled him over near Victoria for speeding on Feb. 13, 2012.

What Maldonado didn’t know at the time is that confidential sources had already told the Drug Enforcement Administration that Maldonado had been transporting bulk cash — $500,000 to $1,000,000 per trip — from 2001 until his arrest on Feb. 13, 2012.

DEA agents had been following, but lost him in Houston earlier that day.

“Nonetheless, [Movant] was subsequently identified by troopers of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and he was stopped for speeding near Victoria, Texas,” court filings in the case show. “During questioning, [Movant] informed authorities that he was merely heading home to the Rio Grande Valley from Sugarland, Texas, and he hadn’t driven the rental vehicle very far.”

The rental agreement, however, showed that Maldonado had actually driven 2,000 miles from South Carolina.

“Robert Maldonado also informed troopers that he was formerly employed as a Texas state trooper for many years, and he was still a licensed peace officer in Texas,” court records reflect. “He refused to allow consent for troopers to conduct a search of the rental vehicle, at which time a canine unit was called to the location.”

The canine alerted to contraband and a search of the vehicle revealed 108 cellophane-wrapped bundles of currency totaling $1,068,930.

As the investigation unfolded, investigators learned Maldonado would take one-way flights to cities in the eastern U.S. and rent vehicles to drive bulk currency back to the Rio Grande Valley.

Federal authorities suspect he took approximately 120 trips and a conservative estimate used as a factor in his sentence set the total amount of cash he transported for drug trafficking organizations at $40 million.

Maldonado received 3% of the cash from each load.

The inmate had worked for the Texas Department of Public Safety until 1994, when he was fired after allegations that he pointed a handgun at a man who was with his estranged wife, according to newspaper archives.

Those charges were dismissed and he was allowed to keep his peace officer’s license.

The former lawman also worked for former Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño, who finished serving his five-year sentence on bribery charges in 2018, until 2007.

Maldonado was a money courier for drug traffickers for six of those years.

After his arrest near Victoria, The Monitor reported that federal agents raided his lakeside mansion north of Mercedes where they found various exotic animals, including bison and kangaroos.

Maldonado is scheduled for release on May 10, 2025.