McALLEN — Approximately one hour after she had taken the stand in her own defense late Tuesday afternoon, Dominga “Penny” Ledesma’s defense attorneys sought the court’s permission for a brief recess in order to confer privately with federal prosecutors.

The jurors, who had already sat through nearly two days of testimony, were not in the courtroom at the time.

When the attorneys returned, it became clear: Ledesma decided to plead guilty.

“The parties are interested in plea negotiations,” Ledesma’s attorney, Edward D. Robertson Jr., said.

When Ledesma, 51, next re-entered the courtroom, she told U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez that she no longer wanted the trial to continue.

Instead, she wanted to take a plea deal.

“You understand we’re in the middle of a trial … if you want the court to continue with the trial, I have no problem with that,” Alvarez said.

The judge continued.

“You hadn’t yet completed your testimony … do you want to go forward and enter a plea of guilty to Count 4?” the judge asked.

“Yes,” Ledesma said quietly.

Ledesma chose to plead guilty to Count 4 of the 16-count superseding indictment against her. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining counts against her at the time of her sentencing.

Prior to her change of heart, Ledesma had been standing trial on six counts of aggravated identity theft, six counts of structuring financial transactions to evade federal reporting requirements, and four counts of unlawful use of identification documents.

With her plea, Ledesma admitted to using the identity of a dead man, Luis Fernando Ramirez, to fill out FinCEN Form 8300s, which federal law states must be submitted to the IRS for any cash transactions of $10,000 or more.

The 11th hour plea negotiations came on the second day of trial, and just as the prosecution had begun a fiery cross examination of Ledesma, who was at times recalcitrant, argumentative and frequently gave specious answers.

On several occasions, the judge was forced to admonish Ledesma to pause before answering questions when she noticed either Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric D. Flores or her defense attorneys preparing to object.

During the trial, jurors heard from people who had previously worked at Ledesma’s Raymondville business, Brittany’s Boutique, about how the business served as a “cash-out” for an 8-liner game room called El Toro.

Jurors also heard from former El Toro employees, who testified that it was common knowledge that the silver pellets awarded at El Toro could be exchanged for cash next door at the boutique.

The jury also heard from two people closest to Ledesma’s business — Rene Gamez Jr., who owned El Toro and benefited most from the cash-out scheme, and Enrique Ledesma, her former brother-in-law and accountant, who had initially informed her of the federal reporting requirements for large cash transactions.

Throughout testimony, the defense hammered home one message over and over: how meticulous Ledesma had been about keeping records.

Ledesma had a list of who among El Toro’s employees were authorized to conduct the cash transactions at Brittany’s Boutique. Their identification needed to be checked every time, for every transaction.

She had her own employees triple check the calculations, she testified.

That meticulousness was a message the prosecution repeatedly punctuated, as well.

Ledesma was so meticulous that she had rules posted for employees, including one that stated they would be fired if they moved the furniture.

“You kept meticulous records but when it came to checking the form, you didn’t,” Flores asked her.

The prosecutor was referring to an 8300 form which listed Ramirez as the owner of El Toro more than a year after the man had died.

Other 8300 forms listed a woman named Gabriella Longoria as the El Toro employee who had served as a courier during the cash transactions months after she was no longer employed by the game room.

Instructions that are attached to 8300 forms clearly state that it is the responsibility of the person submitting the information to verify its veracity under penalty of perjury.

“That was an oversight,” Ledesma replied to Flores.

The prosecutor asked the question again.

“Did you verify he (Luis Ramirez) was the owner?” Flores asked.

“I verified when we opened (Brittany’s Boutique in 2016),” Ledesma responded.

Almost before she was finished speaking, Flores objected, calling her answer non-responsive.

The judge agreed.

Repeatedly, Ledesma equivocated.

“Meticulous means that they attempted … they’re only human … there was an oversight,” she said.

Prosecutors alleged those discrepancies were part of the plan to obfuscate El Toro’s true owner, Gamez, and the true nature of the gambling operation.

Ledesma’s attorneys, meanwhile, tried to present the errors in the forms as mistakes of negligence, not of malice.

During a discussion held outside of the presence of the jury, Robertson, the defense attorney, explained the strategy.

“If she was negligent … that doesn’t make her guilty,” he said.

However, the jury never heard that theory.

Alvarez asked the prosecution to read a statement of facts before asking Ledesma if she agreed with what had been read.

Ledesma whispered “yes.”

Alvarez accepted her plea. Sentencing is set for April.

Find the full coverage of Dominga “Penny” Ledesma’s first day of trial here:

Trial gets underway for Raymondville woman charged in alleged $21 million 8-liner racket