Ex-city manager of Crystal City sentenced to 35 years in federal prison

James Jonas III convicted in bribery, kickback scheme

DEL RIO, Texas – James Jonas III, former city manager and city attorney of Crystal City, was sentenced Wednesday to 35 years in federal prison in connection with a bribery and kickback scheme.

U.S. District Judge Alia Moses called Jonas' behavior "morally shameful" and said residents in the South Texas community he once served "were taken to the cleaners" by his actions.

"The financial records, everything was a mess. Staff didn't know where they were going or what they were doing," Santos Camarillo, Crystal City's current city manager, testified in court.

Jonas, who was found guilty in June of one count of conspiracy to commit bribery involving federal programs, three substantive counts of bribery involving federal programs, 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. Former Mayor Ricardo Lopez was also convicted in the same trial.

U.S. prosecutors wanted Jonas to serve 40 years in prison, but said they were comfortable with the judge's decision.

"Today's sentencing of William James Jonas to 35 years in prison serves as a warning to other elected and appointed officials who may consider engaging in corruption that it is not worth it," said U.S. Attorney William Harris.

Moses also ordered Jonas to pay $1 million in restitution to Crystal City and forfeit $17.2 million to the federal government. Jonas will be placed on supervised release for three years after his prison term.

Four other defendants in the case have pleaded guilty to a federal programs bribery charge and are awaiting sentencing.

Former Mayor Pro Tem Rogelio Mata, former City Councilman Roel Mata, former City Councilman Gilbert Urrabazo and businessman Ngoc Tri Nguyen face up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

About the Author:

Paul Venema is a courthouse reporter for KSAT with more than 25 years experience in the role.