Nearly every official in Crystal City, Texas, was just arrested on corruption charges. A federal indictment detailed bribery allegations against most of the lawmakers in the remote southern town.
The Crystal City, Texas, mayor pro tempore, city manager, three councilmen, and a former council member were all handcuffed and rounded up by FBI agents, Talking Points Memo reports. The leaders were accused of instructing city employees to aid an illegal gambling operation headed by a man known as “Mr. T” and of taking bribes from contractors. The gambler was identified in the indictment as Ngoc Tri Nguyen.
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) February 9, 2016
In a separate case, one of the Crystal City councilmen has also been charged with the smuggling of illegal immigrants into the United States from Mexico. There now is only one remaining council member serving the Texas town. Crystal City is located about 50 miles from the border and is home to approximately 7,000 people.
“What happened is nothing to celebrate. It’s something sad that happened to us,” said Joel Barajas, the only councilman who isn’t facing criminal charges. “By all means, we need to move forward.”
If the charges in the federal indictment against the Crystal City officials are accurate, the elected officials “enriched themselves” by soliciting and receiving money or other things of value. Mayor Ricardo Lopez is accused of accepting $6,000 from Mr. T to purchase a vehicle, according to the federal indictment. In exchange for the cash, the Crystal City mayor allegedly did not require the gambling operator to pay some taxes and had his staffer shut down some other illegal gambling venues in the town.
— Global Guy (@BeenThereSawIt) February 9, 2016
William James Jonas and Mayor Pro Tempore Rogelio Mata allegedly gave a bidding contractor $12,000 in exchange for “payments and other things of value,” according to the federal indictment. Former city councilman Gilbert Urrabazo allegedly voted to keep Jonas as both the city manager and the municipal attorney and to pay him more than $200,000 annually. Jonas is accused of giving payments and other “illegal benefits” to four of the town’s officials.
When councilman Joel Barajas tried to have the contract issued to Jonas suspended in January, the other council members boycotted the meeting, and the matter was tabled. Barajas was elected to the council seat in 2015. According to the recently elected lawmaker, Crystal City is carrying $2 million in unpaid bills and is on the verge of bankruptcy, the New York Daily News reports.
FBI agents walk past a statue of Popeye, the mascot of Crystal City, Texas, as they enter city ha… https://t.co/nUOG0fRth7
— BodybyBane (@BodybyBane) February 9, 2016
Crystal City, Texas, was once known as the “Spinach Capital of the World.” A photo of FBI agents entering the city hall during their investigation circulating on social media offered a glimpse of the Popeye statue position at the front of the front of the building.
Each year, tens of thousands of folks reportedly converge on the South Texas town for the spinach festival, which boasts a beauty pageant and spinach cook-off.
Residents of the Texas border town are not enjoying all of the negative attention the widespread corruption charges has generated, but they want the problems in the town to end. San Antonio U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin Jr. is hopeful that the corruption indictment will help restore the confidence of residents of the town.
“Crystal City is a good town. If you do wrong, you have to face your consequences,” Maria Sanchez Rivera, 67, a lifelong resident of the beleaguered town, said. “We’ve got laws for everything and we’ve got to abide by what the law says.”
None of the officials will immediately lose their positions. Durbin called the indictments a first step in a process which will ultimately be placed in the hands of local residents.
“In the end, it falls back on the citizens to make the next decision on who they put in those offices, because that’s how the system works,” Durbin added.
So far, none of the Crystal City, Texas, elected officials have been stripped of their titles.
[Image via Shutterstock.com]