In a Del Rio federal court Wednesday afternoon a grand jury slapped James Jonas 111, 54, who was paid $216,000 as city attorney and manager, and 40-year-old former Mayor Ricardo Lopez with wire fraud charges, the United States Attorneys Office announced in a press release.
Jonas, who was originally charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and three counts of bribery, is now facing a slew of other charges, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft of honest services; five counts of wire fraud and theft of honest services; and four counts of wire fraud. Lopez, who was also charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and a count of bribery, now faces a count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft of honest services and four counts of wire fraud and theft of honest services.
Jonas, Lopez and nearly the entire City Council were indicted in February 2016 on charges of bribery, forcing a recall election in the small South Texas town. City Councilmember Rogelio Mata, 43, and mayor pro-tem Roel Mata were caught up in the sweep along with former councilman Gilbert Urrabazo, 45. Another Crystal City man, Ngoc Tri Nguyen, 38, was also charged. In unrelated crime, Marco Rodriguez, another councilman, was arrested by Border Patrol for smuggling undocumented immigrants.
According to the feds, Jonas and Lopez allegedly used their positions between May 2012 and February 2016 to make money by soliciting and accepting bribes from people who wanted to do business with Crystal City. The wire fraud charges stem from Lopez and Jonas using emails, texts and phone calls to conceal their alleged fraud.
As for Jonas and his high-priced salary, authorities accuse him of using a multi-million-dollar contract that was awarded in May 2014 for replacing the City's water meters, some heating and air-conditioning equipment and lighting to enrich himself. The City agreed to place more than $2 million dollars in a special account to pay for the upgrades, which was deposited into the City's general fund after it issued Certificates of Obligation to pay for the projects.
Jonas is accused of ordering City employees to leave the money, which was supposed to be moved to that special account, in the general fund. The funds were used to pay Jonas' salary, reimburse him for certain expenses and to pay favored contractors, according to the USAO. That money was deposited into the general fund in December 2014. By October 31, 2015, all that was left was $2,199.95 and Crystal City still owed more than $735,000 on the infrastructure contract.
Rogelio Mata, Roel Mata and Nguyen have already pleaded guilty to bribery charges and are awaiting sentencing. Urrabazo will be re-arraigned later this month on a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery and a count of bribery.