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Two state lawmakers took the witness stand Monday to answer a major question in the bribery case against former state District Judge Rudy Delgado: Who told him about the investigation?
State Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, testified Monday about a conversation with Ernest Aliseda, a former judge who served on the University of Texas System Board of Regents.
Hinojosa told Delgado about the rumor during a get-together hosted by Carlos Guerra, a local attorney.
“The situation turned a little bit tense,” Hinojosa said Monday, when he took the witness stand, recalling the conversation. “A little bit awkward.”
With assistance from an informant, the FBI had spent more than a year investigating Delgado.
In November 2016, the FBI heard that Noe Perez, a local lawyer, had talked with a client about paying judges for courtroom favors.
The FBI asked the client to record conversations with Perez. Armed with the recordings, the FBI pressured Perez to become an informant.
He eventually confessed to paying Delgado for courtroom favors. Perez said he purchased firewood from Delgado at inflated prices and occasionally slipped him cash in six-packs of beer.
The FBI sent Perez to meet with Delgado. He recorded the judge talking about criminal cases and accepting cash. They started building a bribery case.
The rumor — spread by two state lawmakers — had blown the investigation.
Just two weeks before Delgado heard the rumor, he accepted $5,500 from Perez. The cash, stuffed in a white envelope, had been especially conspicuous.
Delgado sent Perez a text message about the money.
“Good evening, please call me. The campaign contribution needs to be by check,” Delgado told Perez in the text message, according to the indictment against him. “I need to return that to you so you can write a check. Sorry about the confusion, I thought you knew and I did not open the envelope till today.”
Prosecutors claim Delgado sent the text message to cover his tracks.
It backfired. When they presented the case to a grand jury, prosecutors secured an indictment against Delgado for obstruction of justice.
Attorney Michael McCrum of San Antonio, who represents Delgado, questioned Bobby Guerra about the rumors Monday.
“It’s better, sometimes, that politicians keep these rumors to themselves,” McCrum said wryly.
“Yes,” Bobby Guerra said.
The Rumor Mill
Prosecutors called Bobby Guerra to testify on Monday afternoon, when they asked him about the rumor.
Bobby Guerra, an attorney who handles civil cases, said he heard about the investigation from his former law partner, Ernest Aliseda, who works for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.
“And lawyers, we talk,” Bobby Guerra said.
During the conversation, Bobby Guerra said that Aliseda mentioned a rumor about federal agents investigating Delgado. The investigation apparently involved the sale of firewood.
“I just thought it was a strange comment to make,” Bobby Guerra said.
Bobby Guerra said he thought the investigation might be linked to a major lawsuit that involved surgical mesh. Asked why he suspected the surgical mesh lawsuit had a connection to the investigation, Bobby Guerra said he didn’t remember.
He mentioned the rumor to state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, who is also an attorney.
“I had told that to Sen. Hinojosa in confidence,” Bobby Guerra said.
A few days later, Hinojosa met Delgado for drinks.
“He’s a friend,” Hinojosa said. “I’ve known him for many, many years.”
Moments after they arrived, Delgado suggested they drink with his friend Carlos Guerra, an attorney in McAllen.
They drove about three blocks away, parked and started drinking wine at Carlos Guerra’s house.
Hinojosa said they had a wide-ranging discussion about politics, judges, lawyers and campaigns. At some point, Hinojosa said he mentioned the rumor.
The conversation became awkward. Delgado called the rumor “a bunch of BS,” Carlos Guerra said.
When they took the witness stand, Hinojosa and Carlos Guerra told slightly different stories about what happened.
Hinojosa said he told Delgado that Bobby Guerra had passed along information from Aliseda. The story involved Delgado buying firewood at inflated prices. Carlos Guerra said that Hinojosa claimed he knew about the case from a source or investigator.
Regardless, the rumor killed the mood. Delgado and Hinojosa left, Carlos Guerra said.
A few days later, Bobby Guerra appeared before Delgado on a probate case. After the hearing, Delgado asked him to meet privately “about some stuff that was going on in Austin,” Bobby Guerra said.
They went to the judge’s chambers. Delgado asked Bobby Guerra about the rumor.
“And I just froze,” Bobby Guerra said, adding that he didn’t know what to do.
Bobby Guerra said the question left him in shock. He left the room as quickly as possible. After composing himself, Bobby Guerra called Hinojosa.
“I asked him: ‘Why the hell did you tell the judge that?’” Bobby Guerra said.
Hinojosa apologized. The damage, however, had already been done.
After asking Bobby Guerra about the rumor, Delgado contacted Perez, the federal informant, about the $5,500 payment.
The FBI arrested Delgado a few days later on bribery charges.
Prosecutors didn’t call Aliseda to testify Monday. With the trial underway, Aliseda said he didn’t think it was appropriate for him to comment on witness testimony.