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A federal grand jury indicted state District Judge Rudy Delgado on six felony charges Wednesday.
The indictment details how a federal informant — identified as “Attorney A” — bribed Delgado to set bond for three people accused of probation violations. After taking two small bribes, Delgado accepted a white envelope stuffed with $5,500 cash during a mid-January meeting, according to court records.
Prosecutors presented the case to a grand jury, which charged 93rd state District Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado, 64, of Edinburg with three counts of federal program bribery and three counts of violating the federal Travel Act.
“Judge Delgado is innocent and we will be fighting the charges,” said attorney Michael McCrum of San Antonio. “He has served the community for many years and never before has anything like this been alleged. So we look forward to having his day in court.”
Authorities arrested Delgado on Feb. 2, when a state trooper stopped him for making an unsafe lane change in Jim Wells County, according to Texas Department of Public Safety records. Hours after the arrest, FBI agents executed search warrants at the Hidalgo County Courthouse and the judge’s home.
The criminal complaint and subsequent indictment against Delgado include details about the federal investigation, which started in November 2016.
FBI agents interviewed a Texas attorney who confessed to bribing the judge since 2008 “in exchange for future favorable rulings on criminal cases before Delgado,” according to the criminal complaint, which doesn’t state when the interview occurred.
While the attorney confessed to bribing Delgado for roughly a decade, the indictment details just three bribes — two $260 payments and a larger payment of $5,500.
In December 2016, Delgado accepted $260 from “Attorney A,” who wanted the judge to set bond for a client accused of a probation violation, according to the indictment. Delgado set a personal recognizance bond.
They reached a nearly identical deal in November 2017, according to the indictment. Delgado accepted $260 from “Attorney A” and set another personal recognizance bond.
The judge accepted a third bribe on Jan. 17, 2018, according to the indictment.
“Attorney A” called Delgado and left a message. When Delgado returned the call, “Attorney A” placed the judge on speaker phone — allowing FBI agents to monitor the conversation.
They agreed to meet at a local restaurant.
FBI agents provided “Attorney A” with a white envelope, which contained $5,500 cash, according to the criminal complaint. The half-inch thick envelope contained $100 bills and $20 bills.
When “Attorney A” arrived at the restaurant, they met in the parking lot.
“Delgado acknowledged and accepted the bribe,” according to the criminal complaint. “Delgado then asked for the name of the client and the case number.”
FBI agents recorded the meeting on video. Delgado set a personal recognizance bond the next day.
In late January, though, Delgado apparently had second thoughts about the payoff. He sent “Attorney A” a text message.
“The campaign contribution needs to be by check. I need to return that to you so you can write a check,” Delgado texted the attorney, according to the criminal complaint. “Sorry about the confusion, I though (sic) you knew and I did not open the envelope till today.”
Fearing that Delgado knew about the investigation, FBI agents arrested him on Feb. 2.
Along with three counts of bribery, the indictment charges Delgado with three counts of violating the Travel Act.
Delgado violated the Travel Act by knowingly and willfully using a telephone to facilitate the bribery scheme, according to the indictment.
“The government just looks for another way to charge the crime based on the same event,” McCrum said, adding that the indictment largely tracked the criminal complaint and didn’t include any new allegations.
Delgado never returned to the bench after the arrest, but he remains a candidate for the 13th Court of Appeals. He ran unopposed in the Democratic Party primary.
If he remains on the ballot, Delgado will face Mission attorney Jaime Tijerina in November.
“I’m a big believer in our constitution,” said Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chairman Ric Godinez. “People are innocent until proven guilty. That said, politically, I think it would be difficult for the judge to maintain either his campaign or his current office.”
The indictment doesn’t disqualify Delgado from running for the 13th Court of Appeals, Godinez said, but a guilty plea or conviction would make the judge ineligible to serve.
“He’s a personal friend of mine and I am very saddened by his situation,” Godinez said. “If I were to call for his resignation — and I’m not saying that I am — it would be because, politically, I would rather have Democrats in those offices.”