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State lifts ‘financial hold’ on Peñitas grants

The state Public Safety Office lifted a financial hold on Peñitas Police Department and Peñitas Fire Department grants last month.

Texas slapped Peñitas with a financial hold on June 15 — two days after the FBI arrested Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez on federal theft charges.

“PSO has four active grants with the City of Penitas. Upon acceptance of those awards, the City of Penitas agreed to ‘immediately notify Office of the Governor (OOG) in writing of any misappropriation of funds, fraud, theft, embezzlement, forgery, or any other serious irregularities indicating noncompliance with grant requirements,’” Executive Director Aimee Snoddy wrote to City Manager Humberto “Beto” Garza III on June 15. “In addition, the City also agreed to ‘immediately notify OOG in writing if a project or project personnel become involved in any litigation, whether civil or criminal, and the grantee must immediately forward a copy of any demand, notices, subpoenas, lawsuits, or indictments to OOG.’”

Peñitas, though, failed to notify the Governor’s Office.

Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez. (Photo courtesy of the city of Peñitas.)

The financial hold affected funding for police body cameras, fire department equipment, border security and crime victims.

“Mayor Lopez has entered a plea of not guilty and is presumed innocent until proven otherwise,” Garza responded on June 17, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act. “The charges that have been alleged are not related to his position with the city or with any procurement issues at the city.”

Garza asked the Public Safety Office to lift the financial hold.

“Peñitas is a home rule city, and the council only acts as governance,” Garza wrote. “The daily operations and management of the city’s current grants are handled by staff.”

Without the grant funding, Peñitas taxpayers would be stuck paying thousands for public safety programs.

“We hereby request that our grants be placed back in active status and funding to continue,” Garza wrote, “to avoid a financial hardship to the City and its residents.”

Lopez is accused of paying a La Joya Independent School District administrator to approve purchases from Xizaka LLC, a company he owns.

“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 against him.

Lopez pleaded not guilty.

The state lifted the financial hold on June 23, when Peñitas provided the Public Safety Office with the indictment.

“In addition, PSO has suspended the eGrants account of Mr. Rodrigo Lopez,” Andrew Friedrichs, the director of Public Safety Grant Programs, wrote to Garza, “meaning the City will need to assign a new Authorized Official to the active grant awards.”

Peñitas addressed the issue on July 11, when the City Council passed resolutions that allow either the mayor or mayor pro tem to serve as the authorized official.

“The City of Peñitas agrees that in the event of loss or misuse of the Office of the Governor funds,” according to the resolutions, “The City of Peñitas assures that the funds will be returned to the Office of the Governor in full.”

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