A former employee of the Rio Grande City school district pleaded guilty on Friday to a misdemeanor charge of offering a gift to a public servant, bringing an end to a case which began in 2017 and led to the temporary removal of a school board member.
Ricardo Lopez, who worked as a truancy officer for the school district, was arrested in November 2017 for bribery, though he wasn’t indicted until September 2020.
On Friday, however, Lopez pleaded guilty to the lesser charge, a Class A misdemeanor, and will serve two years of deferred adjudication, according to his attorney, J.M. Chema Garza.
“I’m happy with the outcome,” Lopez said of the case, which was prosecuted by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
His arrest in 2017 stemmed from an investigation by the Starr County Special Crimes Unit in which they surveilled Lopez meeting with City Commissioner Hernan Garza, the brother of 381st District Judge Jose Luis Garza.
Lopez allegedly met with the city commissioner in an attempt to give money to the judge through him so the judge would lower the bond of a defendant in a murder trial.
Following the arrest, the school district placed Lopez on administrative leave and opted to not renew his contract the following year.
Whether the school district properly notified Lopez that they were not renewing his contract is the subject of an ongoing federal lawsuit. In the federal complaint Lopez filed against the district, Lopez claimed the board and the district violated his rights to freedom of expression and due process when they decided to not renew his contract.
He also alleged that then-board trustee Daniel J. Garcia orchestrated the alleged bribery attempt and abused his power on the board.
Garcia has not been charged on those allegations.
In May 2019, Lopez filed a petition to remove Garcia from the school board based on those claims, but a trial on whether to permanently remove him was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A visiting judge appointed to preside over the removal proceedings granted the temporary removal of Garcia in November 2019 pending trial on those allegations. Because of limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the trial was delayed longer than anticipated, so the judge allowed Garcia to return to the board in June.
Garcia is no longer on the board as he did not seek reelection in November.