Thursday, August 25, 2016

Another Crystal City Official Admits to Role in Bribery, Kickback Scheme

Posted By on Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 5:05 PM

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A saga of rampant corruption in the small South Texas town of Crystal City continues to slowly crawl toward conclusion with another city official pleading guilty to their role in a widespread bribery and kickback scheme.

Former Crystal City Councilman Gilbert Urrabazo, 45, plead guilty Thursday afternoon in Del Rio to a federal bribery charge, the United States Attorney's Office announced. The former council member admitted to accepting a cash bribe in April 2015 from someone seeking business with Crystal City. He faces 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

In February 2016, Urrabazo, former mayor Ricardo Lopez, 40, city attorney/manager James Jonas III, 54, and nearly the entire City Council were indicted on charges of bribery. Two other council members, Rogelio Mata, 43, and Roel Mata, 44, have already plead guilty to bribery charges and are awaiting sentencing as has Ngoc Tri Nguyen, 38, a Crystal City resident. Marco Rodriguez, another councilman, was arrested by Border Patrol and charged with smuggling undocumented immigrants.

In mid-August, the United States Attorneys Office filed a superseding indictment against Jonas and Lopez, piling on more bribery and wire fraud charges. According to the feds, Lopez and Jonas allegedly used their positions between May 2012 and February 2016, to make cash by soliciting and accepting bribes from people who wanted to do business with Crystal City. The wire fraud charges are from the pair using emails, texts and phone calls to conceal the alleged fraud.

At the heart of the fraud is a $2 million contract awarded in May 2014 to replace the City's water meters, some heating and air-conditioning equipment and lighting. According to the federal government, Jonas used that money to pay his high-priced salary of $216,000, to reimburse himself for certain expenses and to pay favored contractors. The money was supposed to be deposited into a special account, but Jonas allegedly ordered City employees to keep it in the general fund, where it was deposited in December 2014. By October 31, 2015, there was just $2,199.95 left in the account and Crystal City still owed more than $735,000 on the infrastructure contract. Both Jonas and Lopez face decades in prison and are out on bond waiting trial, which is scheduled for November 15 in Del Rio. 

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