Thirteenth Court of Appeals Justice Rudy Delgado, who’s under indictment for bribery in federal court, has won an argument to transfer his trial from Houston to McAllen so that he, his family and witnesses won’t have to drive 13 hours roundtrip across Texas.
U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett of the Southern District of Texas in Houston on Monday granted a change of venue for the trial of Delgado, who’s pleaded not guilty to 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.
Even while his bribery charges were pending, Delgado in November 2018 won election to the 13th Court. However, his pending criminal case prompted the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to suspend him from the bench in January 2019, before he took office. The commission also suspended him in March 2018 from Hidalgo County’s 93rd District Court, a bench Delgado held from 2001 to 2018, and where the government alleged that he took bribes from a lawyer in exchange for issuing favorable rulings for the attorney’s clients.
Delgado’s indictment alleged that 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 exchange, Delgado would take official actions like granting personal bonds for release from jail, dismissing charges or dismissing whole cases, according to prosecutors.
Delgado and the lawyer talked on the phone in ex parte communications, without opposing counsel, to arrange hand-offs of the bribes, prosecutors allege. They’d conceal the bribes by making up transactions to buy things at an inflated price. After receiving the $5,500 bribe, someone told Delgado he was under federal investigation. He then tried to cover up the bribe by texting the lawyer that Delgado needed to return an envelope to the lawyer because “the campaign contribution needs to be by check.” The indictment said Delgado knew that the half-inch-thick envelope holding 75 bills was really a bribe, not a campaign contribution.
The attorney, Noe Perez, has pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. It’s angered South Texas attorneys that Perez is still practicing law, pending his sentencing. Perez’s sentencing was scheduled for Thursday, but the court has rescheduled the sentencing for Aug. 15.
Change of Venue
Delgado has argued for the change of venue since October 2018, and the court initially denied the request. The court on Monday reconsidered and granted the transfer, noting in its June 10 order that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas has adopted a new local criminal rule that allows a court to transfer a case to a different division within the district, if the transfer serves the interests of justice. Bennett will continue presiding over the case.
Delgado requested the transfer because he and his family—who have medical issues, or can’t leave their jobs—would suffer hardship from driving the 13-hour round trip from their homes in McAllen to Houston for his trial. He plans to call at least 15 witnesses, and many of them might refuse to voluntarily travel so far to testify, he claimed in a May 2 motion.
Initially, the government asked to prosecute the case in Houston because Delgado is a well-known public official in McAllen and the bribery case against him would attract a lot of media attention, which would make it hard to pick an unbiased jury in McAllen.
Delgado’s attorney, Michael McCrum, of the McCrum Law Firm in San Antonio, wasn’t immediately available for comment. Peter Nothstein of the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section didn’t return a message seeking comment. Neither did Angela Dodge, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
Read the indictment.