Jury finds former top Crystal City officials guilty in bribery, kickback scheme

James Jonas, Ricardo Lopez guilty of conspiracy, bribery, fraud charges

By David Ibanez - Web - Managing Editor

DEL RIO, Texas - A federal jury on Monday found former Crystal City Mayor Ricardo Lopez and former City Manager James Jonas III guilty in connection with a bribery and kickback scheme that officials said "decimated city coffers."

Jonas, 54, 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.

Jurors convicted Lopez, 40, of one count of conspiracy to commit bribery involving federal programs, one substantive count of bribery involving federal programs, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft of honest services and four substantive counts of wire fraud and theft of honest services.

Related: SA Councilman testifies in Crystal City public corruption trial

“By this verdict, a jury of their peers has held these defendants accountable for their inexcusable abuse of the public trust," U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin said in a statement. "Corruption of the kind uncovered in this case corrodes confidence in government and undermines our belief that public officials work for our benefit, not their personal enrichment. We are grateful for the jury's hard work and good judgment, which may restore respect for the work of honest public servants.”

The pair faces up to five years in federal prison for the conspiracy to commit bribery charge, up to 10 years in federal prison for each bribery related charge and up to 20 years in federal prison for each wire fraud related charge.

The defendants will be in federal custody pending sentencing, which will be scheduled at a later date.

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 ten years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

Related: Former Crystal City officials plead guilty to federal bribery charges

Testimony revealed that between May 2012 and February 2016, Jonas, Lopez and 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-milliondollar 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.

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