FBI arrests almost every city leader in small Texas town

When it comes to public corruption, we are hard to beat. For a while there, it seemed you couldn’t shake a wad of cash at a local politician without someone getting indicted.

In happier times, Crystal City, Texas was known for spinach instead of public corruption. Here, in 1936, E.C. Segar, comic artist, and Popeye the Sailor, greets Mayor B.H. Holsomback, Crystal City, Texas, at his arriving in Newark. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)

In happier times, Crystal City, Texas was known for spinach instead of public corruption. Here, in 1936, E.C. Segar, comic artist, and Popeye the Sailor Man, greets Mayor B.H. Holsomback, Crystal City, Texas, at his arriving in Newark. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)

Another part of the country about to get a lot of “interim” politicians is Crystal City, Texas, population 7,500. The small town is a bit smaller today because the FBI hauled away most of city government.

A federal indictment alleges five city officials — the mayor, vice mayor, a city councilman, city manager, city attorney and  former city councilman — were in cahoots with a local gambling operator, who other than running an illegal business, was paying politicians for all sorts of illegal favors.

Another city councilman was hauled away last month for allegedly running a human trafficking scheme. The councilman, Marco Rodriguez, has admitted being paid up to $1,400 to drive cheaper workers from Mexico to Crystal City, which is only a 45-mile drive.

The only city official not jailed on felony charges is Councilman Joel Barajas, who has only been in office a few months but knows a rat when he sees one.

Barajas noticed the city attorney, a former Republican lobbyist who was down on his luck, was hired without applying for the job and was paid an $180,000 salary. City attorneys in neighboring cities of similar size were making about $18,000 a year.

Since the city was facing bankruptcy, Barajas tried to get the expensive city attorney contract nullified but other city leaders refused to show up to vote. Instead of city councilmen, concerned residents were greeted at public meetings by eight uniformed police officers who were told to not let things “get out of hand.”

The indictment alleges city attorney William James Jonas funneled illegal payments to city leaders in exchange for his pricey public paycheck.

“The breadth of the corruption was startling,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs.

Unfortunately for the people who elected so many bad people, the FBI can’t kick anyone out of office.

Voters, or potentially the governor, will have to do that.

It has been said people get the government they deserve. Remember that the next time you don’t vote.


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