Ex-Official Says Council Members Took Bribe

     McALLEN, Texas (CN) — The former public works director of a South Texas town claims he was fired for outing officials who agreed to award a multimillion-dollar contract to a company that bribed them with six figures.
     In a lawsuit seeking more than $5 million, Juan Francisco De Los Rios says that in his more than 30 years of employment with the city of Donna, he developed a love for it that could not abide the rampant corruption of its leaders.
     He sued the city, Mayor Pro-Tem Sonia Gallegos and five other officials in Federal Court on Wednesday.
     De Los Rios says payola is nothing new for the Rio Grande Valley town of 16,000 residents that is 20 minutes from the Mexico border and calls itself “The Heart of the Valley.”
     “This corruption goes back many years. The defendant city has seen its public officials, employees, including police chiefs, police officers and school board members indicted, prosecuted and convicted for corruption,” his lawsuit states. “Sadly, the corruption continues.”
     Before the November 2014 city council elections, De Los Rios alleges, Gallegos and her co-defendant city council colleagues Simon Sauceda, Cathy Alvarado and David Simmons took $110,000 from a company to whom they agreed to award a multimillion-dollar contract.
     The lawsuit doesn’t name the company.
     De Los Rios says each of them, except Simmons, was re-elected but they weren’t as influential as they believed. Simmons is now the city’s fire chief, according to The Monitor newspaper.
     “They had difficulty honoring their part of the agreement and reneged on their deal with the company to award them the multimillion contract. The company started to demand its money back,” the lawsuit states.
     De Los Rios says Sauceda started pressuring him to award the company contracts to “‘get them ‘off his back.'”
     De Los Rios claims he found out about the scam, “started speaking out” about it and refused to give the company any business.
     He says the bribe recipients tapped defendant Ernesto Silva, the interim city manager, to target him for retaliation, and Silva got the police involved.
     “The Donna Police Department initiated an investigation that falsely alleged plaintiff was constructing a BBQ pit at the public works building, using personnel to construct it on city time, and that he was storing personal private property at the public works building,” the complaint states.
     De Los Rios alleges the smear campaign led the city to suspend him without pay for 30 days and demote him in March.
     He says he appealed his suspension, and to “give the semblance of a fair hearing” the city hired an outside attorney to oversee it. The lawyer sided with the city, despite officials presenting no evidence against him, and he was fired, according to the complaint.
     De Los Rios wants $5 million for First Amendment free-speech retaliation, Section 1983 due-process violations and conspiracy.
     He is represented by Francisco J. Rodriguez in McAllen.
     Gallegos, the acting mayor, told The Monitor on Thursday that city council members had nothing to do with De Los Rios’ termination.
     “I haven’t seen the actual lawsuit, so I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Gallegos said. “He was never terminated from the city. He actually just didn’t show up to work anymore. Of course, those are employee issues and employee matters [are] taken care of by city staff and not the council.”

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