The odd man out, Councilman Joel Barajas is the only member of the Crystal City, Texas city council not facing federal corruption charges.
In a bribery scheme that involves city contracts and buying council votes, five current and former city officials were arrested by the FBI on Thursday. A grand jury indictment alleges more than $12,000 in bribes were accepted by Mayor Ricardo Lopez; City Manager and City Attorney William James Jonas III; Councilman Roel Mata; Mayor Pro-Tem Rogelio Mata and former Councilman Gilbert Urrabazo from a contractor, Ngoc Tri Nguyen, wanting to do business with the city, according to CNN.
The bribery scheme began in February 2015, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Per the indictment, Nguyen, a contractor and alleged gambling operator from Keller who wanted to do business with Crystal City, paid thousands of dollars in bribes to swing votes his way on a city contract and for officials to turn a blind eye to his illegal gaming business. The bribery scheme is said to have been managed by Jonas. The federal offenses, if convicted, are punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison for each of the defendants and as much as $250,000 in fines.
FBI agent Christopher Combs, stated, “Officials who abuse their authority will be held accountable,” and, “Public corruption erodes the trust that citizens place in government officials.” CNN affiliate KSAT reported, on Thursday FBI agents swarmed city offices and Jonas’ law office in San Antonio, and boxes of files were carried out. That left Barajas the only councilman remaining at City Hall in Crystal City. Crystal, the county seat of Zavala County is known for its successful production of spinach, has an approximate population of 7,500 and is 130 miles southwest of San Antonio. According to KSAT, Barajas has had his position on the council for nine months and upon arrival he was aware something wasn’t on the up and up. It was that suspicion of corruption that made him run for office, he told the affiliate. Once elected to the council, Barajas said, things just didn’t add up. He said he knew business wasn’t being taken care of properly.
For a while, leadership in Crystal City may be in short supply due to the loss of council members to indictment. Barajas said before moving forward he’ll have to refer to the city charter for advisement, saying “We will succeed,” he said. “We will go forward. It’ll probably take small steps, but we’ll be okay.