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Mayor of corrupt Texas town arrested for 'inciting a riot' during city council meeting

Crystal City Mayor Ricardo Lopez arrested for allegedly starting a riot

 

For the second time in less than a month, the mayor of a South Texas city ended up in handcuffs for his bad behavior.

Crystal City Mayor Ricardo Lopez was arrested Tuesday night during a recess at a city council meeting during which council members were discussing a recall election to remove him and two other city officials from office. Lopez and a fellow citizen began to exchange pushes and shouts in front of the television crews and more than 100 spectators who attended the meeting.

"He was inciting a riot," Crystal City Police Chief Jesus Lopez, who is not related to the mayor, told the San Antonio Express-News.

The uproar started soon after the council approved a motion to suspend indicted City Manager James Jonas III, who – along with three council members – faces federal charges related to a raid earlier this month.

“Only in Crystal City, ladies and gentlemen,” Lopez said as officers led him away, according to a local news station.

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The council meeting was recessed until Wednesday night.

Lopez, along with almost every top official in the remote Texas city, was arrested earlier under a detailed federal indictment that accuses them of taking bribes from contractors and sending city workers to help an illegal gambling operator nicknamed "Mr. T."

"I think the whole town has gone crazy,” Dora Paloma, a former municipal judge, told the Express-News. “This has never happened before."

Once billed as the "Spinach Capital of the World," Crystal City's logo features a cartoon of Popeye, and a spinach festival with a cook-off and a beauty pageant draws tens of thousands of people each year. But in recent months, the town has been in the news for turmoil at City Hall and allegations of misuse of public money.

"What happened is nothing to celebrate. It's something sad that happened to us," said the remaining councilman, Joel Barajas, on Thursday. "By all means, we need to move forward."

The indictment accuses the town's leadership of using their positions "to enrich themselves by soliciting and accepting payments and other things of value." Also charged was Ngoc Tri Nguyen, alleged to be an operator of illegal gambling rooms, who was nicknamed "Mr. T."

Lopez took $6,000 from Nguyen to buy a vehicle, the indictment alleges. In return, he allegedly waived some taxes for Nguyen and had employees close competing casinos that violate state law but exist informally throughout South Texas. Lopez allegedly told city employees inspecting Nguyen's property to "make it easy."

Lopez and others are also accused of voting to keep Jonas as city attorney and city manager at a salary reported by local media to exceed $200,000. In exchange, Jonas provided payments and other illegal benefits to the four leaders, the federal indictment alleges.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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