Donors flooded Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez with campaign cash last month.
Lopez collected $29,000 from March 26 to April 24, according to campaign finance records. His opponent, former Peñitas Mayor Marcos Ochoa, collected just $2,400 from April 5 to April 26.
Lopez, 35, who works for the La Joya Independent School District, is running for re-election with City Councilman Jose Roel “J.R.” Flores and City Councilman Ramiro Loya.
They’re running against Ochoa, 64, a two-term mayor who resigned in October 2014 to become justice of the peace; Osiel Ramos, a teacher at the La Joya school district; and Esmer Medina, a former city employee.
More than 1,200 people cast ballots at the Peñitas library during the eight-day early voting period, according to preliminary data published by the Hidalgo County Elections Department. Saturday is election day.
Lopez collected a dozen checks from well-connected donors.
The largest donation, a $10,000 check from consultant Chris Wilson, arrived on April 15.
“I know Chris. I’ve known him for about two years,” Lopez said. “He’s a good friend of mine. All I can say is he’s another one of those guys who believes in my campaign and believes in the job that we’re doing here in the city of Peñitas.”
Wilson is a partner at Government Asset Services, a consulting company with Peñitas connections.
Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero is the managing partner at Government Asset Services, which frequently works with RGV Redlight, a company owned by Peñitas Chief of Staff Andy Morales.
Romero, Morales and Wilson discussed the relationship in May 2018, when they met with the Valley View school board.
“We currently provide services to school districts and governmental entities, evaluating their assets, evaluating certain processes. But one of the things we also do at Government Asset Services, we offer training for security, we offer private investigations,” Romero said, according to an audio recording of the meeting released under the Texas Public Information Act. “We also offer certifications for police officers. Training. We have three current and former police chiefs who work with us. And we have access to other areas.”
Asked about the donation, Wilson released a statement.
“On a personal note, it’s been difficult listening to and reading all the false propaganda by Rigo’s opponents,” Wilson said in the statement. “And doing everything possible to advance his cause seems like the right thing to do.”
The campaign took a particularly nasty turn when Lopez’s opponents created a mailer plastered with Hidalgo County jail booking photos.
It included a photo of Lopez from November 2001, when a state trooper arrested him on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. The flier also included a photo of Romero from March 2007, when a Pharr police officer arrested him on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.
Judges dismissed both charges, according to Hidalgo County court records. The flier, however, claims the charges were “mysteriously dismissed.”
It also included photos of Morales, who pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges.
News that Wilson, who works closely with Romero and Morales, had donated $10,000 to support the mayor’s re-election campaign stunned Ochoa.
“How do you explain that? $10,000 coming from one person,” Ochoa said. “Why is it? What’s the interest?”