Crystal City, Texas, is home to a quiet city hall.
On Feb. 5, Joel Barajas was the only city council member to show up to work because virtually every other employee is facing federal indictments for conspiracy and bribery charges for allegedly taking taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes and helping the owner of an illegal gambling operation, Ngoc Tri Nguyen,The Washington Post reported.
City Manager and Attorney William James Jonas, Mayor Ricardo Lopez, Mayor Pro Tem Rogelio Mata and Councilman Roel Mata have all been indicted on those charges, although Councilman Margo Rodriguez was indicted in January for allegedly smuggling undocumented immigrants in a separate case, KSAT reported.
Every city leader is out on bond except for Rogelio Mata, but they haven’t returned to work. They are still technically the city’s leaders until they’re convicted of a felony in a court of law. Crystal City, in South Texas, has a population of around 7,100.
Nguyen, also known as Mr. T, allegedly bribed Mayor Lopez into shutting down illegal “8-liner” gaming rooms, which competed with his business, in exchange for $6,000 to buy a car.
Additionally, Lopez and Mayor Pro Tempore Rogelio Mata, Council Member Roel Mata and former Council Member Gilbert Urrabaz allegedly agreed to extend Jonas’ contract under the condition that he would support the ongoing bribery. Jonas also allegedly provided some protection for city leaders, blocking the recall efforts of unhappy citizens.
Barajas told The Associated Press that the city was nearly bankrupt and had $2 million in unpaid bills, but Jonas was getting paid $180,000 for his services, despite never applying for the job. The rate is much more than small-town city attorneys earn in that part of Texas, reports The Washington Post.
Richard Durbin Jr., the U.S. attorney for San Antonio, told AP the indictments were only the first step. "In the end, it falls back on the citizens to make the next decision on who they put in those offices, because that's how the system works."