Guilty: Judge Rudy Delgado Convicted on All Counts in Judicial Bribery Case
By Steven A. Meyerowitz
A South Texas jury on Thursday found 13th Court of Appeals Justice Rudy Delgado guilty of eight federal charges related to judicial bribery allegations.
The jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas found Delgado guilty of conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, obstruction of justice, three counts of federal program bribery and three counts of Travel Act violations.
Delgado’s attorney, Michael McCrum, owner of McCrum Law Office in San Antonio, confirmed the guilty verdict. He said Delgado plans to appeal, and declined to comment further. Angela Dodge, a spokeswoman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, also confirmed the verdict.
“The bribery of a judge may be the worst break of the public’s trust in government,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick of the Southern District of Texas, in a statement. “Rudy Delgado used his position to enrich himself. He didn’t just tip the scales of justice, he knocked it over with a wad of cash and didn’t look back. Delgado’s actions unfairly tarnish all his former colleagues.”
The verdict goes a long way in restoring the public’s confidence in the judiciary, added Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in the statement.
“No one—especially a judge—is above the law,” said Benczkowski. “Corrupt judges erode the confidence we have in our judicial system.”
The government alleged that Delgado, formerly the judge of Hidalgo County’s 93rd District Court, took bribes from Edinburg attorney Noe Perez in exchange for favorable rulings such as granting personal bonds for release from jail, dismissing charges or dismissing whole cases. Usually, the bribes were for $250, although once it was for $5,500 and another time, the lawyer gave Delgado a truck worth $15,000.
In November 2018, with pending bribery charges, Delgado won election to the 13th Court, but the State Commission on Judicial Conduct suspended him from the bench before he took office.
The five-day trial began on July 2 with jury selection, then opening statements and the first day of testimony on July 3. The Progress Times, a newspaper that covers the city of Mission and Hidalgo County, reported that nine witnesses testified over four days, and attorneys delivered 90 minutes of closing arguments.
According to the newspaper, one of Perez’s clients told law enforcement that Perez said he could buy favors from a judge. When confronted, Perez agreed to become an FBI informant in 2016, and afterward, recorded video of four meetings in which Perez allegedly bribed Delgado. Prosecutors played those videos for jurors during the trial. In one video, Perez gave Delgado a thick envelope with $5,500 cash.
Prosecutors wrapped up their case on Tuesday. They presented evidence and testimony of the bribes spanning back to 2008, when Perez gave Delgado a truck worth of $15,000. Later, Perez would meet Delgado at his home, talk about cases, and slip him around $250 in six-packs of beer, under the guise of buying firewood from the judge. While prosecutors alleged he got about 20 logs at that very inflated price, the defense indicated Perez bought truckloads of wood, The Progress Times reported.
The newspaper wrote that Delgado began suspecting Perez in January 2018. The judge heard rumors from local elected officials, state Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, and state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Both testified Monday that Guerra heard a rumor that Delgado was under investigation for the sale of firewood, and told the rumor to Hinojosa, who passed it to the judge.
Later, Delgado allegedly texted Perez, saying he needed to return an envelope of $5,500 cash to Perez because “the campaign contribution needs to be by check.”
The FBI arrested Delgado shortly afterward.
Delgado’s attorney, McCrum, cross-examined Perez with questions about Delgado considering the pair’s talk about court cases separately from discussions about money, reported The Progress Times. He also cross-examined an FBI agent on the stand about an alleged $5,500 bribe from Perez to Delgado, suggesting that money was a campaign contribution and a donation to a foundation run by Delgado.
The Progress Times reported that McCrum acknowledged that Delgado had improper discussions with Perez about cases, but said the talks weren’t related to bribery. Perez purchased firewood and he made a campaign contribution, McCrum said. The newspaper reported that McCrum told jurors that the government had no evidence to establish that Delgado agreed to swap money for courtroom favors.