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After indictment, Peñitas mayor a no-show at City Council meeting

The Peñitas City Council had plenty to discuss on Monday.

Heavy trucks had damaged Tom Gill Road. The sewer system had problems, but the parts Peñitas needed to make repairs are back-ordered. And residents on the south side of town had petitioned the City Council to install speed bumps.

Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez, though, didn’t show up.

“This guy is the mayor. He’s supposed to represent everybody here,” said Alma Ramirez, 65, a retired teacher who lives across the street from Rigo Lopez. “Now he’s in hiding somewhere.”

Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez.

On June 13, a week before the City Council meeting, the FBI arrested Rigo Lopez on federal theft charges.

The indictment against Rigo Lopez accused him of bribing a La Joya Independent School District employee to approve purchases from Xizaka LLC, a company he owned.

“Defendant gave cash to an LJISD employee intending to influence and reward said employee for approving LJISD purchases totaling approximately $70,010.00 from Xizaka, LLC, a business entity owned by Defendant,” according to the indictment.

Rigo Lopez pleaded not guilty.

Xizaka LLC sold athletic equipment and turf to La Joya ISD in 2018, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act. The “Ship to Information” listed City Councilman Alex Guajardo — a La Joya ISD administrator — as the point of contact.

Guajardo resigned from the City Council and La Joya ISD after he admitted to bribing members of the school board and laundering money.

“We trusted them. We trusted that these people were doing the right thing. And they were not,” said Ramirez, who showed up to watch the City Council meeting on Monday. “So it’s a big disappointment. They embarrassed our city. And we have not had an explanation as to what happened. No public statement from any of them.”

City Councilman Ramiro Loya, who presided over the meeting because the mayor didn’t show up, declined to comment.

“Sir, as of right now, I don’t have no comments. Right now,” Loya said. “Probably, later on, you can give us a call. Not right now.”

It’s unclear whether or not Rigo Lopez plans to resign.

On June 14, when Rigo Lopez appeared in court, a federal prosecutor told U.S. Magistrate Judge Nadia S. Medrano that people employed by the city of Peñitas could be witnesses or co-defendants in the case.

“But in light of what he said in regards to the plans for his position, your honor, it may be a moot issue,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr.

Attorney Tony Torres of Edinburg, who represents Rigo Lopez, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, who is originally from Peñitas, said Rigo Lopez should resign.

“The mayor’s office belongs to the people, not Rigo Lopez the person. He is elected and holds the office in trust from the voters,” Hinojosa said. “And he has broken that trust.”

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