On Thursday, Mayor Rodrigo Lopez of Peñitas pleaded guilty to a federal theft charge after being indicted on June 1 on two counts of fraud.
Lopez, the latest Hidalgo County public official to be convicted on corruption charges, admitted to aiding and abetting a La Joya Independent School District employee in defrauding the school district. Despite pleading guilty, it remained unclear until Sunday whether Lopez was still the mayor, causing State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D–McAllen) to write a letter to the city council inquiring as to Lopez’ status.
Sen. Hinojosa ultimately received a response from Lopez himself, who revealed that he had quietly resigned on Thursday. In a letter that made no mention of his indictment or guilty plea, Lopez wrote, “Knowing that the city will remain in good hands under your leadership, I hereby tender my resignation as mayor. I thank the community and residents of Peñitas for their support over the years, and I thank each of you as well. It has been a sincere honor to serve this great community, and I wish you all the best. God bless!”
Lopez bribed a La Joya Independent School District employee for the approval of more than $70,000 worth of purchases from Xizaka, LLC, a company he owned, from March 2018 through August 2018. He responded to a solicitation for bids from La Joya ISD for athletic gear suppliers without disclosing his personal financial interest, which is required under La Joya ISD procedures.
He also failed to submit a required Conflict of Interest questionnaire to the superintendent. Moreover, La Joya ISD procedures require competitive bids for purchases greater than $15,000, and state law requires competitive procurement mechanisms for contracts greater than $50,000. Lopez managed to circumvent both of these requirements by breaking the cost up into 20 fraudulent smaller invoices. The invoices added up to 156 baseball gloves, 15,400 square feet of turf, and three pitching machines. In total, Lopez made a profit of $34,923.
As part of his guilty plea on Thursday, Lopez agreed to return the $34,923 as restitution. However, since it remained unclear whether Lopez was still the acting mayor, State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa sent a letter on Friday to the Peñitas City Council, urging them to demand Lopez’ resignation if he did not offer it.
The city never confirmed his status.
On Sunday, Lopez finally responded through his attorney, who forwarded a resignation letter to Sen. Hinojosa:
I have had the pleasure of serving my hometown community as mayor since I was first elected in 2015, and it has been an honor to serve alongside you as leaders of this great city. In just a few short years, together, and in collaboration with our local, regional, state, and federal partners, we have accomplished so much that has contributed to the growth and prosperity of our region.
Oscar Rosa, the Republican candidate for Texas House District 35, tweeted, “Western Hidalgo County corruption continues. Is there no end? That’s the reason I’m running for the Texas Legislature for District 35.”
I wish I could say I was surprised, but this kind of corruption has become the norm. The same dirty officials have been shaking hands on back door deals that harm our schools, our family, and our entire community. Enough is enough! https://t.co/4FXko8nMNb
— Oscar Rosa for State Rep District 35 (@oscarfortx) August 13, 2022
Lopez faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison and is scheduled for sentencing on October 31.