Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Former sheriff deputy loses federal appeal of money laundering conviction

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A federal magistrate judge ruled last week that a former Hidalgo County sheriff deputy’s claims that the facts don’t support his money laundering conviction and that he had ineffective assistance of counsel are meritless.

Robert Ricardo Maldonado, 54, briefly had an appeal reviewed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Ormsby after U.S. District Judge Randy Crane in February vacated his Oct. 17, 2019, order dismissing the man’s pro se motion after his objections arrived at the federal courthouse through the postal service.

The former lawman had an Oct. 11, 2019, deadline to argue that his appeal shouldn’t be dismissed. That day came and went last year, but on Oct. 21, 2019, Maldonado’s objections arrived — postmarked on Oct. 11, 2019.

Maldonado is serving a 12-year prison sentence for transporting bulk cash from drug proceeds from 2001 to 2012, an activity that began while he worked for former Hidalgo County Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño, who finished serving a five-year prison sentence for bribery in 2018.

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In his appeal, Maldonado claimed his guilty plea wasn’t voluntary because his former attorney, Noe Perez, failed to properly explain the elements of the crime to him. He also alleged conflict of interest claim arising out of the federal bribery investigation into his former attorney.

Perez is serving two years in prison after cooperating with the government in its investigation into former state District Judge Rudolfo “Rudy” Delgado, who is serving five years in prison after a jury convicted him of taking bribes for favorable rulings.

Lastly, Maldonado argued the evidence regarding the elements of his money laundering conviction was not sufficient to support the conviction.

His pro se arguments failed.

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“ Movant’s insistence that the facts do not support his conviction is simply wrong — both legally and factually,” the ruling stated. “Movant fails to show either that his attorney performed deficiently or that he was prejudiced by any alleged error. His initial claims all fail for this reason or are otherwise meritless.”

In his order, Ormsby recommends that Maldonado not be allowed to appeal. Crane, the U.S. district judge, will make a final ruling on Ormsby’s recommendation at a later date.

The Texas Department of Public Safety arrested the man on Feb. 13, 2012, after pulling him over near Victoria for speeding. At the time of the rest, Maldonado was already under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration because a confidential source told federal agents that he had been transporting $500,000 to $1 million per trip beginning in 2001.

In fact, the DEA had been following him earlier on the day of his arrest but lost him in Houston as Maldonado drove south.

And sure enough, a canine alerted DPS troopers to 108 cellophane packages hidden inside Maldonado’s vehicle that totalled more than a million dollars.

Federal authorities suspect Maldonado transported $40 million for drug traffickers during approximately 120 trips.

Maldonado is scheduled for release on May 10, 2025.

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