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Jury selection will start Tuesday in the federal bribery case against former state District Judge Rudy Delgado.
U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett scheduled jury selection for Tuesday morning. The trial may last three weeks.
“It’s how the judge perceives that,” said attorney Michael McCrum of San Antonio, who represents Delgado, referencing his client. “His state of mind with that event.”
Federal agents arrested Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado, 66, of Edinburg — a fixture at the Hidalgo County Courthouse, where he presided over the 93rd state district court — in February 2018.
The criminal complaint against Delgado revealed that FBI agents had spent roughly 17 months investigating him.
A local lawyer, Noe Perez, claimed he paid Delgado for courtroom favors. The FBI conducted a sting operation, attempting to catch Delgado accepting bribes. Agents also tapped Delgado’s phone, installed a camera near Delgado’s house and started watching people that Delgado associated with.
In January 2018, the FBI provided Perez with $5,500 cash, according to the court records. Agents stuffed the money in a conspicuous white envelope.
While the FBI listened, Delgado accepted the money and promised to assist Perez with a case. Twelve days later, though, Delgado sent Perez a text message.
“Good evening, please call me. The campaign contribution needs to be by check,” Delgado told Perez in the text message, according to the criminal complaint against him. “I need to return that to you so you can write a check. Sorry about the confusion, I though (sic) you knew and I did not open the envelope till today.”
Trial testimony may reveal new details about the sting and why Delgado sent the text message.
During a motion hearing on Monday morning, McCrum indicated that Delgado frequently met with local lawyers.
Many attorneys donated money to a foundation named for Delgado’s son, Roman Delgado, that provided scholarships. They also donated money to Delgado’s campaign for the 13th Court of Appeals.
Delgado met with Perez to collect money. During the meeting, Perez asked Delgado for assistance with a case, McCrum said, adding that Delgado didn’t consider the money a bribe.
“Our position is that they’re separate,” McCrum said, referring to the cash and the conversation about the case. “They’re separate deals.”
Bennett, the federal judge from Houston, didn’t appear to buy the argument.
It’s improper for a judge to discuss a case with an attorney without opposing counsel present, Bennett said, adding that it’s also unseemly for a judge to accept cash from an attorney while a case is pending.
“He doesn’t consider that unusual at all?” Bennett said, as his voice filled the courtroom.
“Judge. I don’t know why you’re getting so angry,” McCrum said. “I’m just trying to state my position, your honor.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter M. Nothstein and Assistant U.S. Attorney Arthur “Rob” Jones previewed testimony about how Delgado apparently heard about the federal investigation.
Prosecutors plan to call witnesses to testify about a rumor that reached Delgado.
“Person A” provided information to “Person B,” who passed the information to Delgado, according to Nothstein. The conversation prompted Delgado to contact “Person A” for confirmation.
Nothstein didn’t specify what, exactly, Person A said that convinced Delgado to verify the information.
McCrum objected to testimony about the conversations, concerned the testimony would include hearsay.
“Let’s see how it develops,” Bennett said, adding that he’ll deal with any problems as they arise.
McCrum also objected to testimony about an attorney who apparently took a vacation with Delgado, a woman who claimed she witnessed Delgado accept a bribe in July 2015 and an inmate who claimed that Delgado accepted a bribe in approximately 2004.
Neither prosecutors nor McCrum named the attorney, the woman or the inmate, who remains in federal custody. Delgado may take the witness stand to defend himself.
“That’s a very real possibility, if not a probability,” McCrum said.
Jury selection is scheduled to start Tuesday morning. Opening arguments may follow on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning.