Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have filed 15 additional corruption charges against the mayor and city manager of the south Texas town of Crystal City. The new charges include wire fraud, theft of services, and additional conspiracy charges.
Crystal City Mayor Ricardo Lopez, City Manager/City Attorney James Jonas III, and three other city officials were indicted in February when a federal grand jury handed down a series of bribery and conspiracy charges, Breitbart Texas reported. FBI agents raided the town’s City Hall, making arrests and seizing evidence. The initial indictment alleged that Jonas had arranged for a city council vote to award a contract to a local businessman who then allegedly paid him $12,000 in a bribe. Mayor Lopez allegedly participated in the scheme.
The new indictments, handed down by a federal grand jury in Del Rio, Texas, on Wednesday, added 10 additional charges to the initial indictments against Jonas and five against Lopez. The new indictments against Jonas include one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft of honest services; five substantive counts of wire fraud and theft of honest services; and four counts of wire fraud, according to information obtained by Breitbart Texas from the U.S. Attorney’s Officer for the Western District of Texas.
Lopez’ new charges include a single charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft of honest services and four substantive counts of wire fraud and theft of honest services.
Prosecutors claim that Jonas and Lopez used their governmental positions to enrich themselves by soliciting and accepting bribes from those seeking to do business with the City of Crystal City. The new charges are based upon evidence obtained that revealed Jonas and Lopez allegedly used email, text messages and phone calls to carry out their scheme.
Jonas’ new charges are tied to a wire fraud scheme involving a multi-million-dollar city infrastructure contract. The contract involved the replacement of the city’s water meters, and other heating and air conditioning equipment and lighting.
The indictment alleges that “Crystal City agreed to place approximately $2,124,389 in a specific escrow account and only use those funds to pay the provider as phases of the work were completed. Crystal City subsequently issued Certificates of Obligation and raised $2.25 million specifically for the improvements and for costs related to the issuance of the certificates. Those monies were deposited into the City General Fund in December 2014.”
Jonas allegedly used these funds to pay his salary as city manager and city attorney and to reimburse himself for expenses. He also allegedly used the funds to pay “favored contractors” and other uses that were in violation of the funds stated purposes.
In December 2014, Crystal City deposited $2,124,389 into an escrow account to be used for the paying for the contract. By October 31, 2015, those funds had been depleted to a balance of $2,199.95 according to the prosecutors. The city still owed over $735,000 in obligations under the contract.
While the suspects are out of jail on bond, each face up to five years in prison for the bribery conspiracy charges, ten years in prison for each of the bribery related charges, and up to twenty years in federal prison for each count of the wire fraud charges.
Three of the other suspects who were charged in the February indictments include Mayor Pro-Tem Rogelio Mata, former city council member Roel Mata, and local businessman Ngoc Tri Nguyen. These men have since pleaded guilty to bribery charges and their sentencing is pending.
Later this month, the fifth suspect, former city council member Gilbert Urrabazo faces a re-arraignment hearing on August 25. He is currently out on bond on one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and one substantive federal program bribery charge.
Mayor Lopez was also arrested in February during a city council meeting following the announcement of the indictments. The mayor allegedly got into a pushing and yelling match with citizens upset about the charges. Crystal City Police Chief Jesus Lopez, who is not related to the embattled mayor, said that Mayor Lopez was “inciting a riot,” Breitbart Texas reported on February 18. While being booked into the local jail, the mayor was also found to have an illegal pill in his pocket.
The investigation into the alleged corruption by the Crystal City governmental officials by the FBI, the San Antonio Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigative Division and Texas Rangers continues.