William James Jonas III, former city manager and city attorney for Crystal City, was sentenced last week to 35 years in federal prison for his role in a bribery and public corruption scandal that depleted the city’s budget.

The small town about 115 miles southwest of San Antonio, with an estimated population of 7,500 people, was rocked by a corruption scheme between Jonas, the mayor, and other city councilmembers.

According to federal authorities, the mayor, city manager/attorney, and all but one city councilman “used their official positions to enrich themselves by soliciting and accepting bribes from persons seeking to do business in Crystal City” from May 2012 to February 2016.

What alerted the FBI was a $2.5 million bond for city infrastructure that was used to supplement Jonas’ salary as well as other unauthorized spending. At the time of his arrest, Jonas was being paid $216,000 as the city attorney to represent the small community. According to the U.S. Attorney, Crystal City’s general fund of $2,207,050.62 had been depleted to a little over $2,000 by the end of October 2015, still owing $735,000 for infrastructure projects.

On June 26, 2017, a federal grand jury convicted Jonas on 14 felony counts in a bribery scheme to defraud Crystal City.

“By this verdict, a jury of their peers has held these defendants accountable for their inexcusable abuse of the public trust. Corruption of the kind uncovered in this case corrodes confidence in government and undermines our belief that public officials work for our benefit, not their personal enrichment,” stated U.S. prosecutor Richard L. Durbin, Jr. following the conviction.

Last Wednesday, almost a year later, all defendants appeared at the federal courthouse in Del Rio.

U.S. District Judge Alia Moses reprimanded Jonas before her courtroom, “To hear how badly you left that town is shocking.” She continued by stating Jonas’ actions were “morally shameful.” She sentenced him to 35 years in federal prison and ordered Jonas to repay the city.

Businessman Ngoc Tri Nguyen was also sentenced on Wednesday to 17 months in prison. Still awaiting sentencing are former Mayor Pro Tem Rogelio Mata and former City Councilmen Roel Mata and Gilbert Urrabazo, all of whom have pleaded guilty to bribery and could face up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

“Sentencing of William James Jonas to 35 years in prison serves as a warning to other elected and appointed officials who may consider engaging in corruption that it is not worth it,” stated U.S. prosecutor William Harris.

For the small town of Crystal City, the community has elected completely new officials, and is currently occupied with rebuilding its name, along with its budget.

Miriam Cepeda

Miriam Cepeda is the Rio Grande Valley Bureau Chief for Texas Scorecard. A second-generation Mexican American, she is both fluent in English and Spanish and has been influential in grassroots organizing and conservative engagement within Hispanic communities. If you don’t find her “Trumping”, you can find her saving animals, running her dog, hiking the Andes, or volunteering with the U.S. National Park Service.


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