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Jury deliberations started Wednesday in the federal bribery case against former state District Judge Rudy Delgado.
After testimony from nine witnesses, four days of trial and 90 minutes of closing arguments, the jury must decide whether or not Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado, 66, of Edinburg — a fixture at the Hidalgo County courthouse for nearly 30 years — accepted bribes and obstructed justice.
“This is a judge who takes bribes,” Nothstein said.
To emphasize that point, prosecutors presented the jury with a familiar piece of evidence: A video that showed Delgado accept a thick, white envelope from Noe Perez, an attorney who became a federal informant.
The envelope contained $5,500 cash.
Prosecutors played the video during their opening statement. They played the video when Perez testified. And they played the video Wednesday, minutes before the jury started deliberations.
“What did he do?” Nothstein said. “He accepted a bribe.”
Nothstein prosecuted the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Arthur “Rob” Jones and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Guerra.
They argued that Perez had bribed Delgado from 2008 to 2016. According to Perez, who spent two days on the witness stand, the conspiracy started with a 2007 Chevrolet Silverado.
Perez allowed Delgado to take the truck without paying. He also started buying firewood from Delgado for what prosecutors called “very inflated prices.”
In 2016, when Perez suggested he could pay a judge for courtroom favors, the FBI started investigating. Perez became an informant.
He recorded meetings with Delgado in December 2016, August 2017, November 2017 and January 2018. The recordings formed the basis for three bribery charges against Delgado.
Along with bribery, Delgado is accused of obstructing justice.
Rumors about the federal investigation reached Delgado in January 2018. He sent a text message to Perez, calling the $5,500 payment a “campaign contribution.”
“He tried to cover his tracks,” said Jones, the federal prosecutor.
Attorney Terry Wayne Shamsie of Corpus Christi and attorney Michael McCrum of San Antonio, who represented Delgado, attempted to rip the case apart.
McCrum walked the jury through instructions provided by the court, which listed the elements of every crime.
“We can’t add to the government’s evidence with suspicion or speculation,” McCrum said, imploring the jury to follow the law.
McCrum acknowledged that Delgado made off-color and offensive remarks during the recorded conversations. He also acknowledged that Delgado held improper conversations with Perez about pending cases.
“Frankly, some of it bothered me. A lot of it did,” McCrum said. “But it wasn’t related to the crimes of bribery.”
McCrum accused the FBI of weaving together conversations about pending cases and money. He also accused Perez of setting up Delgado to save himself.
“That ain’t right,” McCrum said. “But that’s the reality of it.”
Perez purchased firewood from Delgado and made a campaign contribution while discussing cases, McCrum said, but what matters is how Delgado perceived the payments.
McCrum noted that instructions provided by the court required jurors to find that Delgado acted corruptly.
“The recordings are not clear,” McCrum said, adding that evidence never established an explicit agreement between Perez and Delgado.
Just because jurors may believe that Delgado should know better doesn’t mean he committed bribery, McCrum said. The law requires that jurors consider intent.
“‘Shoulda known’ isn’t enough to find somebody guilty,” McCrum said.
Delgado never agreed to swap cash for courtroom favors, McCrum said, and not a single piece of evidence introduced by the government established that fact.
“He’s not guilty,” McCrum said.
U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett sent the jurors home at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. They will resume deliberations Thursday morning.