FBI Arrests Almost All of the Top Officials of Crystal City, Texas

FBI agents gather outside the home of Crystal City, Tex., Mayor Ricardo Lopez for his arrest on Thursday morning. (PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Owen/San Antonio Express-News via AP)
FBI agents gather outside the home of Crystal City, Tex., Mayor Ricardo Lopez for his arrest on Thursday morning. (PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Owen/San Antonio Express-News via AP)

Joel Barajas was the only Crystal City council member to show up to the office Friday.

That’s because everyone else he works with is facing felony charges.

Five top officials in the Texas city were arrested Thursday under a federal indictment accusing them of taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes and helping the operator of an illegal gambling operation who went by the nickname “Mr. T.”

The indictment swept up the city’s mayor, mayor pro tempore (who both have city council votes) and a council member, as well as the city manager, a former city council member and the alleged gambling operator, Ngoc Tri Nguyen. None of the men has commented about the charges or filed any pleas in response to the indictment.

A fourth person on the city council, Marco Rodriguez, was arrested last month on human smuggling charges. According to KENS, Rodriguez admitted to being hired to drive undocumented immigrants across the the border from Mexico.

That left just Barajas at the City Hall in Crystal City, which has about 7,500 people and is 130 miles southwest of San Antonio. He has been on the council for nine months, according to KSAT, and he could tell as soon as he arrived that something fishy was going on.

“I knew some things were not being correctly taken care of,” he said.

According to the indictment, those in the town leadership who were charged “used their official positions to enrich themselves by soliciting and accepting payments and other things of value” from Nguyen and others. The document accuses the officials of voting to award contracts in exchange for bribes, extorting payments from contractors, turning a blind eye to Nguyen’s illegal gaming business while taking action to shut down would-be competitors, and agreeing to reduce Nguyen’s taxes in exchange for him waiving debts, among other dealings.

Mayor Ricardo Lopez, the indictment alleges, instructed city inspectors to “make it easy” while looking at Nguyen’s property. Authorities said he also made extra effort to shut down other operators of “8-liner” gaming rooms, which are nominally illegal in Texas but flourish informally in the southern part of the state. In exchange, he allegedly accepted $6,000 from Nguyen to buy a car.

It also says that Lopez and the other officials — Mayor Pro Tempore Rogelio Mata, council member Roel Mata and former council member Gilbert Urrabazo — voted to extend city manager and city attorney William Jonas’s lucrative contract, in exchange for his support in their various bribery schemes.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post