A press release from the Department of Justice in February 2016 highlighted alleged public corruption in Texas and raised questions about its extent.
The Department of Justice said every top elected official in the small Texas town of Crystal City was arrested after they were accused of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes and assisting an unlawful gambling operation.
The press release said five officials were arrested. A federal grand jury indictment returned charges against the city manager and attorney, mayor, the mayor pro-tem as well as one of three city council members and an ex-city council member.
They also arrested Ngoc Tri Nguyen, 38, a Texas businessman accused of operating illegal gambling facilities.
A report in the Huffington Post claimed the officials were accused of using their positions “to enrich themselves by soliciting and accepting bribes from persons seeking to do business in Crystal City.”
City Manager William James Jonas was accused of managing the alleged bribery scheme. Reports said a contractor allegedly paid more than $12,000 in bribes to the city manager, Mayor Pro Tem Rogelio Mata; his brother, Roel Mata, a councilman, and former Councilman Gilbert Urrabazo.
The federal investigators claimed the payments were made in exchange for their votes to approve a city contract.
The Department of Justice claims Nguyen made payments directly to Mayor Ricardo Lopez for other official acts carried out by Lopez and Jonas.
The federal investigators hoped to send out a tough message about the tough penalties for alleged public corruption during the investigation.
Christopher Combs, the FBI special agent in charge, said most public officials are law abiding.
He said the arrests should serve as a “powerful reminder” that officials who abuse their authority will be held to account.
In its press release, the DoJ stated that the public officials face up to 10 years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine for the offenses if convicted.
“While most public officials faithfully promote the interests of the communities they serve, today’s arrests should serve as a powerful reminder that officials who abuse their authority will be held accountable,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs
The Washington Post later suggested Crystal City might be the most corrupt small town in America. However, an article on the Governing website claimed corruption is widespread in the small towns of Southern Texas.
The article said the two federal judicial districts that cover the southern Texas region rank near the top nationwide in terms of the volume of public corruption cases.
Combs told the San Antonio Express-News, probing corruption in these locations is “almost like shooting fish in a barrel.”
The size of the area is seen as one factor. Crystal City is more than 100 miles southwest of San Antonio. The FBI pointed out it’s a tough call for agents to consider if they should make a three-hour round trip to check out a corruption tip.
As the Crystal City indictment demonstrates, public corruption crimes attract heavy federal sentences. If you have been charged with an offense of this nature, please call us today at (682) 204-4066.