CMU grad argues for bond in money-laundering charges


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A former Carnegie Mellon University trustee charged with laundering millions for a Mexican drug cartel says he's no risk to flee or a menace to anyone and shouldn't remain locked up pending trial in Texas.

But the federal government says Marco Antonio Delgado, 46, is likely to disappear if a judge lets him out on bond.

Federal prosecutors in El Paso said Mr. Delgado told an associate that if he was ever arrested he would flee to the Caribbean, where U.S. agents said he has a bank account to launder his money and an attorney friend named "Big John."

Agents with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations said Big John is associated with the Turks and Caicos law firm of Skippings and Rutley and has helped Mr. Delgado transfer his funds.

Homeland Security agents also said Mr. Delgado has traveled widely in Europe and to Cuba, where a government witness, Victor Pimentel, said he and Mr. Delgado regularly made trips to have "mass sexual activities" with underage girls.

Mr. Delgado, an El Paso energy lawyer who resigned from CMU's board of trustees this summer, was indicted Sept. 5 on charges of laundering drug proceeds for the brutal Milenio cartel. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Although he cooperated with agents in their investigation of the cartel's activity in the U.S., the government said he also conducted a side deal in Chicago without telling his handlers.

A judge initially ordered him detained because of his "access to large amounts of funds" and "extensive international contacts."

Mr. Delgado and his lawyer, Ray Velarde, say that's not fair. Mr. Delgado said he has strong family ties to El Paso, where his children and extended family live, and would not leave them.

Mr. Delgado also said he has known he was under investigation since 2007 and hasn't fled. In addition, he said he can't escape to Mexico, where he travels most often, because the Mexican government plans to file wire fraud charges against him in another case involving the Federal Commission on Electricity of Mexico.

Mr. Delgado's risk of flight is "minimal," his lawyer wrote. "[Delgado] intends to appear in court to defend the charges that have been filed against him."

Mr. Delgado led a double life, according to the government, posing as a respectable lawyer and member of the El Paso high society set while secretly moving money for shadowy, violent drug lords south of the border.

Born in Mexico in 1966, the son of a doctor, he moved with his family to the U.S. at 16 and graduated from Austin High School in El Paso. After college in El Paso, he came to Pittsburgh and studied at CMU's Heinz School of Public Policy and Management, graduating in 1990, and then received his law degree from Texas Tech.

In 2003, after having achieved prominence as an energy attorney in El Paso, he gave the Heinz School a gift of $250,000 to establish a fellowship in his name for Hispanic students, at the time the largest gift by an alumnus in the history of the school.

He served on the board of trustees from 2006 until this year.

CMU has refused to comment on any aspect of Mr. Delgado's history or the federal investigation.

The case began on Sept. 5, 2007, when state troopers pulled over Mr. Pimentel's vehicle outside Atlanta and seized $1 million cash. Mr. Pimentel cooperated, identified Mr. Delgado as a co-conspirator and agreed to help HSI make a controlled delivery.

Mr. Pimentel said Mr. Delgado had provided him with fake court papers indicating the money came from a legal settlement should Mr. Pimentel be stopped by the police.

In recorded calls between Mr. Pimentel and Mr. Delgado, Mr. Delgado indicated that the money was from drug sales, according to federal prosecutors.

After the controlled delivery on Sept. 7, 2007, Mr. Delgado was arrested and also agreed to cooperate. He and Mr. Pimentel both said the $1 million was part of a trial run in anticipation of moving up to $600 million, prosecutors said.

Agents said they recorded calls between Mr. Delgado and cartel members who were eager to recover the seized money.

Mr. Delgado has since been threatened -- another reason he should remain in custody, prosecutors argued.

"The risk to the community would be from spillover violence should the cartel, who is now aware of [Delgado's] perfidy toward their organization, attempt to kidnap and/or kill [him]," they said.

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Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-231-0132.


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