City manager in Crystal City sentenced to 35 years in prison

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Crystal City manager

A federal judge sentenced James Jonas III, the city manager at the center of a corruption investigation that took down the mayor and all but one city council member in Crystal City, to 35 years in prison.

Jonas, 56, had at one time negotiated questionable no-bid city contracts to pay his own $216,000 salary that represented half of the budget of Crystal City, a community of 7,500 people about 115 miles southwest of San Antonio.

Serving simultaneously as city attorney and city manager despite questions of a conflict of interest, Jonas also deflected questions of his residency by claiming he lived in a rusted and abandoned caboose parked in the center of town.

A federal jury in Del Rio convicted Jonas and former Mayor Ricardo Lopez on June 26, 2017. Jonas was convicted on 14 felony counts, including: five for wire fraud and theft, four for wire fraud, three for bribery, and two for conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud and theft, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Western District.

The jury convicted Lopez of four felony counts of wire fraud and theft, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft, one count of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, the statement said.

“To hear how badly you left that town is shocking,” U.S. District Judge Alia Moses told Jonas Wednesday in her courtroom in Del Rio. She ordered that Jonas make a $1,047,814.05 restitution to Crystal City and pay the federal government $17,291.73.

“The financial records, everything was a mess,” Santos Camarillo, the current Crystal City city manager, testified before sentencing. “Staff didn’t know where they were going or what they were doing.”

Jonas, a lawyer, had been an influential and well-paid lobbyist in Austin and Washington before the Democrats took over Washington, D.C. after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, according to a San Antonio Express-News story from 2013.

After a bitter divorce, Jonas fell so far behind on child support in 2010 he was arrested and spent three months in the Bexar County Jail, the story said.

Then in the spring of 2012, Jonas got a call from one of his clients, Rogelio Mata, new member of Crystal City’s council. The council was looking to replace a city attorney who had suddenly quit.

Although he was not one of the five lawyers who had applied and although he’d never been a city attorney before, the council voted 4-1 to hire Jonas. The now-convicted Mayor Lopez cast the lone vote in dissent, arguing the council was ignoring proper hiring procedures.

According to federal authorities, from May 2012 until 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.”

“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 charging $150 an hour for city attorney services the city had been getting for $1,000 a month. In time, he took over the city manager’s position. But the conflicts of interest and his fundraising methods came to the attention of federal investigators.

In particular, was a $2.25 million bond offering to pay for city infrastructure. But rather than earmark money for individual projects, Jonas had the money deposited in the general fund to cover his salary and a variety of unauthorized spending.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s account, a general fund of $2,207,050.62 had been drained to $2,199.95 by the end of October, 2015. Crystal City still owed the contractors for the infrastructure projects more than $735,000.

On Jan. 2, 2016, a Border Patrol agent arrested council member Marco Rodriguez, 36, in Big Wells and charged him with attempting to smuggle three immigrants into the country.

In the next week, a federal grand jury indicted Jonas, Lopez, Mata and two other council members — Mata’s brother Roel Mata and Gilbert Urrabazo — for their part in wire fraud and bribery from the contractors involved in the infrastructure scheme.

In addition, the grand jury indicted Ngoc Tri Nguyen, operator of a so-called “8-liner” gambling and money laundering operation, and Lopez for accepting a $6,000 bribe from Nguyen to allow him to operate.

During a council meeting to discuss the recall elections of those indicted, police handcuffed and arrested Lopez after he scuffled with a political opponent. “He was inciting a riot,” Police Chief Jesus Lopez told the San Antonio Express-News. Citizens cheered as he was taken away.

“I think the whole town has gone crazy,” former municipal judge Dora Paloma told the Express-News. “This has never happened before.”

That spring, voters in Crystal City cleaned house, electing replacements for the mayor and all of the council members who had been indicted.

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].

39 COMMENTS

    • Linda: your head is in the wrong place. Your allegation happened in San Diego, Duval County, Texas where George Parr was County Judge. The famous Ballot Box 13.

  1. Typical democRATS. So the same democRAT voters who elected these THIEVES in the first place, voted AGAIN “ cleaned house”” ummm, The state should have appointed a council, why would you trust the same democRAT voters to elect another council??

    • Jonas is a hard core republican. Was a republican lobbyist and raised a lot of money for republican candidates. Big trump supporter, too. #Facts

  2. City of San Antonio is just like Crystal City. They used to have a telecommunications manager on the payroll who stole a bunch of money from their Avaya contract funds. When he was catched him stealing and fired him they also banned him from city hall and sued him. Judge Arteaga fined him $90k. Nico La Hood the DA he didn’t even bother sending him to prison because the man was very frail and his wife was disabled in the face. Crystal City is lucky that it didn’t have this crook working there.

    • Susan and I feel that who ever is impersonating is must either be a Catholic, an Uresti follower, or a Illuminati member. My wife is sitting at home after multiple surgeries to her face and lips and she doesn’t not need this kind of abuse and defamation. I have sent Texas Monitor and Carlos Uresti multiple certified letters. CERTIFIED! And my lawyer, Michael Bernard (best in Texas) will be sending at least seven strong certified letters to anyone that defames me or continues to make my wife miss work at Whataburger for continued abusive emotional attacks.

  3. Jonus may get a new trial….Judge Moses ignored proof of the criminal acts of SAPD Chief Mcmanus and main witness Manny Pelaez…San Antonio TX officials and the liberal media cover up the fact that SAPD Chief McManus is at the center of an ongoing criminal coverup after he destroyed evidence, covered up fraud in the 57th District Court by city officials/witnesses ( including Texas Ranger Hank Whitman) , banned whistleblowers from City Hall / meetings for almost 4 years to silence them, swore everyone to secrecy, ripped up police reports and lied to Federal Judge Xavier Rodriguez to hide his crimes and the illegal activity inside San Antonio TX City Hall going back to 1982 involving tens of milions of dollars. …San Antonio TX City Councilman Manuel Peleaz – has conspired with others to cover up long-term corruption, lied in an effort to conceal criminal activity and stalked/cyber-bullied citizens reporting corruption in an effort to silence them………https://texasmonitor.org/san-antonio-councilman-uses-facebook-mock-activist-couple/

    • I Pray he does not get a new trial. He sauntered into my hometown and ruined it. He had a group of councilman that he sucked in and in 4 short years they literally put Crystal City into bankruptcy. He is a con artist and liar. He used city funds like it was his own for trips, fun and I assume his child support for which his ex had him thrown in jail before on. He kept his own set of books to spend and splurge as he pleased. Wrecked city credit. Ruined our status and credibility with all. He is a cheat, crook liar and I personally hope he stays in prison.

  4. Jonus may get a new trial….Judge Moses ignored proof of the crimes committed by SAPD Chief McManus, main witness Manuel Pelaez and others that taint the “investigation” and trial….San Antonio TX officials and the liberal media cover up the fact that SAPD Chief McManus is at the center of an ongoing criminal cover-up after he destroyed evidence, covered up fraud in the 57th District Court by city officials/witnesses ( including Texas Ranger Hank Whitman) , banned whistleblowers from City Hall / meetings for almost 4 years to silence them, swore everyone to secrecy, ripped up police reports and lied to Federal Judge Xavier Rodriguez to hide his crimes and the illegal activity inside San Antonio TX City Hall going back to 1982 involving tens of millions of dollars. …San Antonio TX City Councilman Manuel Peleaz – has conspired with others to cover up long-term corruption, lied in an effort to conceal criminal activity and stalked/cyber-bullied citizens reporting corruption in an effort to silence them………https://texasmonitor.org/san-antonio-councilman-uses-facebook-mock-activist-couple/

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