EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Federal agents said Wednesday that a West Texas lawyer and former Carnegie Mellon University trustee accused of conspiring to launder drug money continued to work for a drug cartel even after he agreed to cooperate with the government.
Marco Antonio Delgado is on trial for allegedly devising a scheme to launder up to $600 million for the now disbanded Milenio cartel from 2007 to 2008.
Homeland Security Investigations agent Alex Asencio testified that Delgado never contacted him about a money pickup of $50,000 in Chicago in the summer of 2008. By that time Delgado had already agreed to cooperate with HSI after he was arrested with $1 million in September 2007 in El Paso. After his initial arrest, court records show, he confessed it was part of a "trial run" in what agents say was a money laundering operation.
Agents were notified of the pickup by Victor Pimentel, who was an associate of Delgado at the time and was collaborating with the investigation without Delgado's knowledge.
Delgado's defense showed phone records of more than a dozen calls by Delgado to Asencio's cellphone number in the days leading to the Chicago pickup. Asencio responded that he never spoke to Delgado and that maybe the records reflected phone calls that had gone to voice mail.
Asencio explained that he had stopped taking calls from Delgado because of the ranting, nonsensical nature of his calls. Also he said Delgado, after agreeing to cooperate, put him in touch with some members of the alleged money laundering group — including the cousin of the intermediary between the group and the cartel.
Asencio said he met with Isidro Vega Rubio and Pedro Mendoza Meneses, alleged members of the conspiracy to launder the $600 million, in October 2007 in McAllen Texas. Vega Rubio is the cousin of a man known only as Chuy —short for Jesus in Spanish.
Asencio said he lost all communication with these men soon after.
"I was under the impression he (Delgado) had compromised me and that he (Vega Rubio) wanted nothing to do with me," Asencio testified.
After Pimentel picked up the $50,000 in Chicago, agents instructed him to fly back to El Paso and deposit the money —minus the $5,000 agreed commission— in Delgado's law firm account. It's a process known among law enforcement as "walking the money," and it involves criminals being allowed to move money in hopes of learning more from an operation.
The $5,000 was seized by HSI and not given to Pimentel. Delgado later confessed to HSI that he withdrew the money and spent it, agent Gabriel Aguirre said during testimony.
Delgado's defense has insisted he never knew it was drug money. At several points in court, agents were asked whether Delgado or others acknowledged it was money from a drug cartel in their recorded phone conversations with alleged money laundering group members. Agents said they did not, but that some details left them no doubt it was drug proceeds: huge bundles of cash sealed in plastic bags, death threats to group members after the money was seized, and Delgado's failure to rebut investigators' claims that it was drug money during multiple interrogations.
Delgado's defense has claimed associates of Lilian De La Concha, the ex-wife of Mexico's ex-president Vicente Fox, asked him to help them move money from an inheritance and construction companies. While the scheme was in play, De La Concha and Delgado were romantically involved, witnesses have testified. De La Concha had been divorced from Fox by then, and Fox had already left office.
The relationship between Delgado and De La Concha ended, and Delgado chose to tell her he was dying of cancer as an excuse not to see her again, Aguirre said.
Phone calls between Delgado and De La Concha that HSI recorded after his arrest and presented as evidence Wednesday revealed she was in contact with other members of the alleged money laundering group, and that she relayed messages back and forth between Delgado and the intermediary known as Chuy.
Delgado was arrested in El Paso in 2012. At the time of his arrest, the Carnegie Mellon University website said he had given a $250,000 endowment for a scholarship named after him to assist Hispanic students. He also was a regular contributor to the El Paso Symphony Orchestra and a member of a local educational foundation.