Philanthropist on trial for laundering drug money

Marco Antonio Delgado, an ex-Carnegie Mellon University trustee, is charged with conspiring to launder over half a billion dollars for a Mexican drug cartel. His trial began Monday.

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    El Paso lawyer and philanthropist Marco Antonio Delgado is escorted out of the El Paso County Jail, Nov. 5, 2012. The investigation into Mr. Delgado started in September 2007, after authorities seized $1 million in Atlanta. Victor Pimentel, the man carrying the money, is now the key witness for the prosecution.
    Juan Carlos Llorca/AP/File
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An ex-Carnegie Mellon University trustee was accused Monday by a Texas federal prosecutor of conspiring with a romantic interest to launder half a billion dollars for a Mexican drug cartel.

Marco Antonio Delgado is being tried in El Paso on money laundering charges.

Prosecutor Debra Kanof said in her opening statement that Delgado discussed a deal with Lilian De La Concha, an ex-wife of former Mexican President Vicente Fox, at a meeting in Mexico City.

"They talked about $600 million and agreed he would get 5 percent of whatever he could launder," Kanof said.

Delgado's attorney, Ray Velarde, says the meetings with De La Concha were about his expertise in energy and international law, not drug money.

"At no time the subject of drug money was mentioned," Velarde said.

Delgado is a lawyer and former Carnegie Mellon trustee who gave a $250,000 endowment for a scholarship named after him to assist Hispanic students.

Prosecutors say Delgado conspired to launder drug profits from July 2007 through December 2008. They say he's since participated in financial transactions they believe are connected to organized crime.

The investigation into Delgado started in September 2007 after authorities seized $1 million in Atlanta. Victor Pimentel, the man carrying the money, told investigators that he, Delgado and other men had met in Mexico and agreed to transport money for the Milenio Cartel, a drug-trafficking organization based in the Mexican state of Colima and associated with the Sinaloa Cartel. Mexican government information states the cartel was mostly disbanded in 2010.

Pimentel, now a key witness for the prosecution, testified Monday and produced several email conversations spanning over several months between him and Delgado. Some of those conversations contained emails that he claims were from De La Concha to Delgado and that were later forwarded to him by Delgado.

Pimentel walked Kanof through the coded language that he, Delgado and De La Concha prosecutors say they used to talk about the money laundering operation they were allegedly negotiating with the drug cartel.

In one email written in Spanish, De La Concha tells Delgado "Dear, in relation to the Girls Scout cookies that you are going to try to place, God willing you can help them place five more boxes per school each week. Right now, instead of 300 they have in the warehouse 500 boxes and with the donations that are coming in the amount is going to increase."

Pimentel told Kanof that each box of cookies meant $1 million, "schools" were bank accounts or other geographic locations and the "donations" referred to drug proceeds.

In other emails, they talked about constructors, iron works and other words to refer to the deal.

"We are not idiots, we never dealt with cookies or iron works. We only had one business with these people," Pimentel told the prosecutor.

In another email, Pimentel explained, Delgado forwarded a letter that De La Concha would send to Francisco Ramirez Acuna, then interior secretary, asking him to hire Delgado as a lobbyist or representative in Washington in order to better the official's image in the U.S. capital. Pimentel also said that she requested that Pimentel's cousin be named head of the border crossing in Palomas, just across the border from Columbus, New Mexico.

He added that the plan was to have an inside man so they could "cross anything from the US to Mexico."

US District Judge David Briones adjourned the hearing and said Pimentel's testimony and the defense's turn to question him would continue Tuesday.

According to US. authorities, Delgado admitted to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that he had been contacted by people in Mexico about slowing down extradition processes of alleged cartel members and about moving up to $600 million from the U.S. to Mexico. He told the agents the million dollars seized was "a trial run" to see if it was possible, according to the US government.

If the deal was successful, Pimentel explained, both he, Delgado and De La Concha would receive a percentage of the money laundered.

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