Drug smuggler convicted in Panama Unit scandal may be released from prison after providing information about corrupt judge

1 month 3 weeks 3 days ago Thursday, August 06 2020 Aug 6, 2020 August 06, 2020 10:29 AM August 06, 2020 in News - Local

A drug smuggler convicted in the Panama Unit corruption scandal may be released from prison after providing the FBI with information about another high-profile corruption case.

Fernando Guerra Sr. worked with the Panama Unit and other corrupt cops — including the former Hidalgo County Crime Stoppers coordinator and former Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office investigators — to steal drugs from other smugglers.

Faced with a lengthy prison sentence, Guerra cooperated with federal prosecutors and testified against Jorge Garza, a former Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

Guerra, though, didn’t stop cooperating with the government when he went to prison in 2014.

During an interview with FBI agents, Guerra said he bribed former state District Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado.

“The FBI also interviewed a cooperating defendant, Person 4, who stated that on two occasions in approximately 2004, he paid cash bribes to the defendant on behalf of a McAllen-area civil attorney, Attorney 3,” according to a sentencing memo in the Delgado case, which identified Guerra as Person 4. “On both occasions, Attorney 3 asked Person 4 to deliver to Delgado envelopes that Person 4 believed to be filled with cash.”

Agents confirmed part of the story and interviewed the attorney, who denied bribing Delgado.

“Person 4 had previously been convicted of drug trafficking in an unrelated case and was serving a sentence of incarceration,” according to the sentencing memo. “He provided this information to the government in hopes of receiving additional credit for cooperation, but no such promises were made to Person 4.”

Prosecutors wanted Guerra to testify against Delgado. A federal judge, concerned that Guerra couldn’t remember key details, including when he delivered the cash, rejected the request.

A jury convicted Delgado on bribery and obstruction of justice charges in July 2019. He’s serving a five-year sentence at Federal Medical Center Fort Worth.

Last week, a year after the Delgado trial, a sealed motion was filed in Guerra’s case.

Details about the motion emerged on Wednesday, when U.S. District Judge Randy Crane held a status conference.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Arthur “Rob” Jones, a member of the team that prosecuted Delgado, represented the government.

Jones said the government had filed a “Rule 35” motion, which allows a judge to reduce the sentence of someone who provided “substantial assistance in investigating or prosecuting another person,” according to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Guerra, who is serving his sentence at a federal detention center in Houston, will not be able to attend court hearings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said his attorney, Javier O. Martinez.

Any delay, however, could keep Guerra in prison longer than necessary.

Guerra will allow the court to consider the motion and proceed to resentencing without him, Martinez said.

Sentencings where the defendant isn’t present are extremely rare under normal circumstances. They became more common during the pandemic, when the defendant could be sentenced to time served and quickly released from prison.

“Is Mr. Guerra looking at time served then?” Crane said.

Jones said the government recommended a 15-month sentence reduction. Martinez said he would request time served.

Neither attorney mentioned what, exactly, Guerra did to merit a reduced sentence.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas declined to comment on the motion. Martinez didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In 2013, when he was arrested, Guerra faced decades in prison. He pleaded guilty to participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy that involved cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine.

Based on his conduct and role in the conspiracy, the federal sentencing guidelines suggested a sentence of more than 27 years in prison.

After considering his cooperation, the judge sentenced Guerra to 15 years. That sentence was later reduced to 12 years and three months after a change in federal sentencing guidelines.

“As of August 5, 2020, Fernando Guerra has earned 378 Good Conduct Time (GCT) days,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which added later: “he has a projected date of release of July 17, 2023, which includes projected GCT days.”

The government’s recommendation, a 15-month sentence reduction, would allow Guerra to be released from prison in late 2021. If the judge accepts Martinez’s recommendation of time served, Guerra could be released within days.

The resentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 12.

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