FBI ‘liberates’ town from corruption

Crystal City, Texas, Councilman Joel Barajas is the odd man out. He’s the only member of the city council not facing federal corruption charges.

Authorities have arrested five current and former city officials and a businessman in a bribery scheme involving city contracts and buying votes on the council.

A grand jury indictment alleges City Manager and City Attorney William James Jonas III; Mayor Ricardo Lopez; Mayor Pro-Tem Rogelio Mata; Councilman Roel Mata and former Councilman Gilbert Urrabazo accepted more than $12,000 in bribes from a contractor wanting to do business with the city.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the scheme began in February 2015.

Ngoc Tri Nguyen of Keller, a contractor who wanted to do business with the city, paid the thousands in exchange for favorable votes on a city contract, a statement says. Jonas is said to have managed the bribery scheme.

If convicted, each defendant faces up to 10 years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

“Officials who abuse their authority will be held accountable,” said FBI agent Christopher Combs. “Public corruption erodes the trust that citizens place in government officials.”

Agents swarmed city offices on Thursday and Jonas’ law office in San Antonio, toting out boxes of files, CNN affiliate KSAT reported. Crystal, nicknamed the “Spinach Capital of the World, is about 100 miles southwest of San Antonio.

The new guy

Barajas has only been on the city council nine months, but told the affiliate it was his suspicion of corruption that made him run for office.

“I wanted to see if I could do any difference by going in, by helping, by putting my little two cents there,” he said.

Barajas said once he was elected to the council, things just didn’t add.

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

Being the only councilmember not under indictment, leadership may be in short supply for a while. Barajas said he’ll have to take a look at the city charter to see how to move forward.

“We will succeed,” he said. “We will go forward. It’ll probably take small steps, but we’ll be okay.”