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After pleading guilty to theft, former Peñitas mayor pays nearly $35,000 in restitution

Former Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez paid nearly $35,000 in restitution last week after he confessed to defrauding the La Joya Independent School District.

Rigo Lopez pleaded guilty on Aug. 11. His attorney, Tony Torres of Edinburg, delivered a check for $34,923.70 to O’Hanlon, Demerath & Castillo — a law firm that represents La Joya ISD — that afternoon.

Torres didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez, 38, of Peñitas worked for La Joya ISD from 2009 to 2022.

In January 2018, when Rigo Lopez worked in the Asset Management Department, he started a side business called Xizaka LLC. Documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office listed Rigo Lopez and his wife as managing members.

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

After he created the company, Rigo Lopez submitted a bid to supply La Joya ISD with athletic supplies, equipment and services. The school board approved bids from Xizaka LLC and 29 other businesses in February 2018.

Xizaka LLC sold 156 baseball gloves, 15,400 square feet of turf and three pitching machines to La Joya ISD from March to August 2018, according to information released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. The district paid Xizaka LLC about $70,000.

La Joya ISD had requested pricing for athletic supplies, equipment and services through a catalog bid.

At the time, La Joya ISD required administrators to solicit quotes if they wanted to spend $15,000 or more with a business that submitted a catalog bid. Purchases of $50,000 or more required competitive bids.

With assistance from Alex Guajardo, the former La Joya ISD athletic director, Rigo Lopez side-stepped the policies by spreading the purchases across more than two dozen invoices.

“For example, defendant submitted 19 separate invoices for the purchase of 15,400 square feet of turf between March 28, 2018, and June 11, 2018, totaling $42,350,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr. said on Aug. 11, when he read the factual basis for the plea aloud in court. “Defendant also submitted multiple invoices for gloves and pitching machines, totaling $13,260 and $14,440 respectively.”

Bobby Lopez and Rigo Lopez aren’t related.

“The former La Joya Independent School District athletic director in turn did not seek any competitive bids and fraudulently approved approximately $70,010 in purchases of said baseball supplies from defendant’s company as previously described,” Bobby Lopez said. “As a result, defendant received approximately $34,923.70 in profits and proceeds from said fraudulent transactions.”

Rigo Lopez struck a deal with federal prosecutors and pleaded guilty on Aug. 11. The charge against him, theft, is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.

As part of his plea agreement, Rigo Lopez agreed to pay back La Joya ISD within two weeks.

Rigo Lopez, though, apparently had the money handy. His attorney dropped off a check that afternoon.

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