Ex-mayor and city manager of ‘Spinach Capital of the World’ convicted

Crystal City "Spinach Capital of the World" (NL)

All the power the legendary Popeye might ever muster couldn’t help former officials of “The Spinach Capital of the World” after they were caught using Bluto-type tactics. The former mayor and city manager of Crystal City, the south Texas town known for growing 80 percent of the Popeye’s favorite crop, have been convicted for bribery and kickbacks regarding city business, the FBI announced Monday. A jury in Del Rio, convicted Crystal City’s ex-mayor Ricardo Lopez and ex-city manager William James Jonas, III, of conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud charges.

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Their schemes “decimated city coffers” announced United States Attorney Richard Durbin, Jr. and FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio.

Testimony revealed that Jonas, 54, was involved in a wire fraud scheme in connection with a multi-million-dollar debt offering in December 2014. The scheme involved payment for various improvements to the City’s infrastructure, including replacing the City’s water meters, certain heating and air conditioning equipment, and lighting.

“…funds were used to pay for Jonas’ salary and other unauthorized expenditures.”

NEWS LEGIT writer Jack Dennis at the Crystal City Popeye Statue in front of City Hall. The statue was erected in 1934, just seven years after the cartoon character’s creation. (Jack Dennis)

“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,” Combs. “Instead, 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.”

The City’s General Fund had a balance of $2,207,050 after the deposit of the raised funds. But prior to October 31, 2015 the balance was only $2,200. “On November 6, 2015 Crystal City still owed approximately $735,048.79 in payments to the company that performed the infrastructure improvements,” stated Durbin.

From May 2012 through February 2016, Jonas, Lopez, and other city officials used their official positions to “enrich themselves by soliciting and accepting bribes from persons seeking to do business in Crystal City,” Durbin said. “Jonas and Lopez (age 40) 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.”

“By this verdict, a jury of their peers has held these defendants accountable for their inexcusable abuse of the public trust. 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,” stated United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr.

Jonas and Lopez face up to five years in federal prison for the conspiracy to commit bribery charge, up to ten years in federal prison for each bribery related charge, and up to 20 years in federal prison for each wire fraud related charge. Both were remanded into the custody of the U. S. Marshals pending sentencing, which will be scheduled by order at a later date.

“…a jury of their peers has held these defendants accountable for their inexcusable abuse of the public trust.”

Spinach Capital of the World! (NL)

“We would like to thank the San Antonio Police Department who were full partners in this investigation. We also would like to thank the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers for their assistance,” said Combs. “Citizens deserve honest and faithful service from their public officials. Greed and self-interest have no place in public service. Officials who betray the public and violate their oath of office will be thoroughly investigated and exposed. In this effort one of our most important partners is the public, and we encourage honest citizens to report suspicious activity to the FBI at 210-225-6741.”

Four other defendants in this case—former Mayor Pro-Tem Rogelio Mata, former City councilman Roel Mata, former City Councilman Gilbert Urrabazo, and businessman Ngoc Tri Nguyen—each already entered guilty pleas to a federal programs bribery charge and are awaiting sentencing. All face up to ten years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine at sentencing.

 

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