Final sentences handed down in Crystal City fraud and bribery cases

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Crystal City

The last three elected officials involved in a fraud and bribery scheme that drained more than $3 million from the general fund and gutted the leadership of Crystal City have been sentenced to federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Alia Moses in Del Rio sentenced Rogelio Mata, the former mayor pro tem of Crystal City, to 33 months; council member Gilbert Urrabazo to 24 months; and council member Roel Mata to 21 months for their part in a plan to do favors for a local business. The community of 7,500 is located about 115 miles southwest of San Antonio.

In July, The Texas Monitor reported that the former mayor, Ricardo Lopez, was sentenced to eight years in federal prison and ordered to pay $24,000 restitution for his role in the scheme.

James Jonas III, the former city manager and fraud and bribery ringleader, received a 35-year sentence and was ordered to repay more than $1 million, The Texas Monitor reported in May.

Moses ordered the three council members, who agreed to plead guilty to a single count each of federal felony bribery, to pay fines of $2,000 each and to jointly make restitution for more than $11,000 in bribes they took, KSAT-TV reported on Monday.

Current Mayor Frank Moreno, who spoke at the sentencing, said he was disappointed the sentences weren’t harsher, considering all of the financial damage the men caused.

“We’re kind of disappointed,” Moreno told a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News after the sentencing. “I thought 10 to 20 years was reasonable plus restitution to the city.”

A federal jury in Del Rio convicted Jonas and Lopez in 2017, Jonas on 14 felony counts, five of them for wire fraud and theft, four for wire fraud, three for bribery, and two for conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud and theft.

The jury convicted Lopez on 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.

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,” according to federal investigators.

Jonas had been hired as a city attorney, but was acting as city manager, despite questions of a conflict of interest. He coordinated a project to improve city infrastructure that relied on a $2.25 million bond issue approved by voters.

Jonas deposited the bond proceeds in the city’s general fund, and city officials proceeded to siphon all but $2,199.95 of it by Oct. 15, 2015. Contractors, many of whom offered bribes for the work, were owed more than $735,000 by the city.

At Lopez’ sentencing, City Manager Santos Camarillo testified that much of the money taken from the general fund by Lopez paid for extravagant trips, events, meals and drinks.

Camarillo had said the convicted city officials left city finances in such a state it was impossible to say exactly how much had been stolen, spent and lost. On Monday, Mayor Moreno estimated the loss at $3 million.

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].

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