Almost Entire City Council Arrested By FBI
It was eerily quiet when Joel Barajas got to his office on Friday. That’s because Joel was the only city council member inside the building.
The rest of them, as it happens, were in FBI custody.
5 top Crystal City, Texas officials were arrested on Thursday. A federal indictment accuses them of helping the operator of an illegal gambling operation and taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes.
The city’s mayor, mayor pro tempore, a council member, a former city council member, and the city manager were all picked up by law enforcement.
Ngoc Tri Nguyen, known as “Mr. T,” is the alleged gambling operator. He was also taken into custody.
According to the indictment, the officials are being charged because they “used their official positions to enrich themselves by soliciting and accepting payments and other things of value.”
The document also alleges that those arrested were guilty 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.”
If found guilty, each member could face as much as $250,000 in fines and up to 10 years in federal prison.
Residents told reporters they had tried to recall the officials but city attorney William Jonas blocked the attempt.
It turns out Mayor Ricardo Lopez, Mayor Pro Tempore Rogelio Mata, council member Roel Mata, and former council member Gilbert Urrabazo had all voted to extend Jonas’ exorbitant contract as city manager and attorney. He was given a salary of $180,000 a year in exchange for his support in their various bribery schemes.
Barajas, the sole council person not arrested, tried to have Jonas’ contract suspended last month. He was met at City Hall by 8 uniformed police officers sent by the other members.
U.S. attorney for San Antonio, Richard Durbin Jr., told the AP that he “hoped the indictment would help restore some public confidence in the local government.”
If the councilmen are smart, they will strike a plea deal. Otherwise they will have to “gamble” on the their juries being merciful ones.
© 2016 Vianna Vaughan