EL PASO, Texas (AP) — In public, Marco Antonio Delgado was a philanthropist, a prominent El Paso businessman and a trustee at Carnegie Mellon University. But secretly, investigators say, he was trying to launder more than half a billion dollars for a Mexican drug cartel.
Delgado pleaded not guilty Thursday in El Paso to federal charges that accuse him of conspiring to launder $600 million of a cartel’s drug profits from July 2007 through December 2008. Homeland Security Investigations said he was linked to a cartel based in Guadalajara, Mexico.
If convicted, the married father faces up to 20 years in prison.
A recently unsealed indictment doesn’t provide details on how Delgado planned to carry out the scheme, though details could be revealed during a bond hearing Wednesday, when prosecutors try to convince a judge to keep Delgado in jail.
His wife and son declined comment after Thursday’s hearing, as did his attorneys. Delgado was arrested last week.
Records show that Delgado was an active philanthropist in the El Paso area, donating to the Symphony Orchestra, and was a member of the boards of educational charities.
Delgado also gave Carnegie Mellon, his alma mater, $250,000 to establish a fellowship in 2003. He later became a trustee of the prestigious university in Pittsburgh, a post that allowed him to rub elbows with top executives of large companies such as GM, USB Wealth Management and Oracle.
University spokesman Ken Walters confirmed that Delgado was a trustee from 2006 through mid-2012, saying: “I wish it was someone else.”
By his own account, Delgado even dabbled in Mexican politics. A biography recently pulled from the university’s website said Delgado took leave from his professional activities to join Mexican President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto’s campaign in early 2012, and that he was currently part of his transition team.
Eduardo Sanchez, a spokesman for the transition team, said they had never heard of Delgado and pointed to the group’s website, which doesn’t list Delgado as a member. Such teams are tasked by the president-elect to meet with current officials and gather information to assure a smooth transition between administrations.
“Clearly this person is not part of the team. We don’t know him,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez also ruled out the possibility that Delgado could have served as an adviser to Pena Nieto, or worked on or raised funds for his campaign.
As to why Delgado would provide such information to the university, Sanchez speculated that “criminals normally say things that are not true.”
Delgado received a master’s degree in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College in 1990. He gave 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.”
Walters, the university spokesman, said Delgado had provided the biographical information that had been on the school’s website, including his claimed links to Mexico’s president-elect.
He declined comment on whether the endowment funding could be linked to drug money or if they have looked into the claims made by Delgado in his biography.
“Right now we have no knowledge of the matter and are reserving comment until the authorities investigate,” Walters said.
Robert Strauss, a professor at Heinz College, told the Pittsburg Tribune-Review 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.”
Associated Press writers Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh and Adriana Gomez Licon in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Follow Juan Carlos Llorca on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jcllorca.