Federal court denies appeal of ex-city manager of Crystal City convicted in bribery scheme

James Jonas III to continue serving 35-year prison sentence after ruling

Former Crystal City Manager and Attorney James Jonas III.

NEW ORLEANS – A federal appeals court in Louisiana on Friday affirmed the wire fraud convictions and prison sentence of the former city manager and city attorney of Crystal City.

James Jonas III had asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to overturn his 2017 conviction and subsequent 35-year prison sentence, claiming that some of the charges against him were not sufficiently related to be part of a single indictment, according to a copy of the court’s ruling obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.

Jones, in his appeal, also said that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict for the wire fraud offenses and that he was deprived of his right to counsel at his 2018 sentencing.

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

In tossing out Jonas’ appeal on Friday, the court stated his sentence was reasonable and referenced the victim impact statement of the city manager who took over for Jonas after his 2016 indictment.

The city manager testified that Jonas’ mismanagement of Crystal City led to “financial ruin.”

The appeals court dismissed Jonas’ other arguments.

Jonas was found guilty 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.

Four other defendants in the case, including three who were Crystal City council members, pleaded guilty to a federal programs bribery charge.

Federal testimony revealed that between May 2012 and February 2016, Jonas, Lopez and the other city officials used their official positions to enrich themselves by soliciting and accepting bribes from people seeking to do business in Crystal City. Court records show that Jonas and Lopez also used emails, texts and phone calls to carry out their scheme to defraud Crystal City and its citizens through bribery and the concealment of information.

Jonas was involved in a wire fraud scheme in connection with a multi-million dollar debt offering in December 2014, which was intended to pay for various improvements to the city’s infrastructure, including replacing the city’s water meters, certain heating and air conditioning equipment and lighting, according to trial testimony.

Under various documents related to the debt offering, Crystal City agreed to place the $2.25 million generated by the sale of the certificates of obligation into separate accounts and to use those funds only for specified purposes. Instead, prosecutors said Jonas caused those monies to be deposited into the city’s general fund in December 2014, where the funds were used to pay for Jonas’ salary and other unauthorized expenditures.

According to the indictment, the balance in the city’s general fund after the deposit of the raised funds was $2,207,050.62. The balance in the city’s general fund on or about October 31, 2015, was $2,199.95. On Nov. 6, 2015, Crystal City still owed approximately $735,048.79 in payments to the company that performed the infrastructure improvements, prosecutors said.

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

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