When a Trustee and Major Donor Becomes an Embarrassment

In late October, Federal prosecutors in El Paso, Texas, formally charged Marco Antonio Delgado with conspiring to launder $600 million in drug profits for the Mexican Milenio Cartel. Delgado was a prominent attorney and known in El Paso and beyond as a generous philanthropist.

The investigation that led authorities to Delgado began in 2007 when authorities arrested Victor Pimentel in Atlanta, Georgia, after they found him carrying $1 million on a “dry run” of the money-laundering scheme.

Pimentel agreed to cooperate with authorities, providing them with his communications with Delgado and others involved in the conspiracy, including Lilian De La Conta, the ex-wife of former Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Delgado’s attorney has insisted that his client was communicating with people in Mexico because they had sought his expertise in energy and international law, and his attorney has also emphasized that none of the communications include any references to drugs.

That appears to be true. But Juan Carlos Llorca, a reporter for the Associated Press, has quoted directly from some of those communications, and they are also clearly not about energy or international law.

One from De La Conta to Delgado reads as follows: “’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.’”

According to Pimentel, the message is a clumsy attempt to disguise the real topic: “each box of cookies meant $1 million, ‘schools’ were bank accounts or other geographic locations, and the ‘donations’ referred to drug proceeds.”

Delgado had apparently become romantically involved with De La Conta, who has not been indicted and did not cross the border for his trial. But a woman on the U.S. side of the border with whom he had also been romantically involved testified against him during his trial.

During the Delgado’s trial, his attorneys argued that the $50,000 that was transferred in a briefcase to him in a Chicago parking lot was payment for legitimate services he had rendered. But prosecutors pointed out that such large payments for legitimate work are seldom made in cash, in bills of small denominations, with the bills bundled with rubber bands and wrapped in vacuum-sealed plastic. It didn’t help Delgado that this transfer of money occurred after he had agreed to cooperate with authorities as they tried to build a case against the cartel figures in Mexico who were involved in the money-laundering scheme.

All of this is pretty fascinating stuff in its own right.

But what might make it of special interest to the readers of this blog is that Delgado was a member of the Carnegie-Mellon Board of Trustees.

According to CBC News, Delgado had “received a master’s degree in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College in 1990. He had given the school the $250,000 to establish the Marco Delgado Fellowship for the Advancement of Hispanics in Public Policy and Management in 2003. In a news release at the time, he credited the school’s ‘outstanding faculty, strong links to the private sector and overall dedication to producing problem-solvers.’”

At the time of Delgaso’s arrest, “university spokesman Ken Walters declined comment on whether the endowment funding could be linked to drug money. ‘Right now we have no knowledge of the matter and are reserving comment until the authorities investigate,’ Walters said.”

In an article in the Pittsburgh Trubune-Review, also published at the time of Delgado’s arrest, Robert Strauss, a professor at Heinz College, said that he “was shocked to learn of Delgado’s indictment. ‘I’ve known Marco Delgado for some considerable number of years,’ Strauss said. He added that Delgado had never been one of his students, but that he ‘always was interested in our Hispanic students, and he has been generous.’”

I have not been able to find anything more recent on the fellowship or the investigation into whether the quarter of a million dollars that Delgado provided to fund it came from laundering drug money. I am assuming that, at the least, his name has been taken off the fellowship.

One final footnote to this story is that there was a further link to higher ed because at the time of his arrest in Atlanta, Pimentel had been a student at the University of Texas at El Paso.

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