Influential, embattled Rio Grande City politician dies at age 54

Leonel J. Lopez Jr., an influential Rio Grande City politician, died Saturday due to complications from cancer at 54 years old.

Lopez, a former municipal judge for Rio Grande City and former trustee on the Rio Grande City school board, died Saturday afternoon following a recent cancer diagnosis, according to multiple sources.

He died in his home in Rio Grande City, according to an obituary posted Saturday.

The last year of his life was mired in controversy since he pleaded guilty to bribery involving federal programs in March 2019. The charge stemmed from an alleged $4 million bribery scheme surrounding the rehabilitation of the Weslaco water treatment facilities.

Federal prosecutors alleged that beginning in 2008 through about December 2016, Lopez orchestrated a scheme to bribe two Weslaco city commissioners in exchange for votes that would benefit three engineering companies.

His sentencing, however, was continually postponed for undisclosed reasons.

Lopez also worked for state Rep. Armando Martinez from January 2005 to March 2009, and for state Rep. Ryan Guillen until March 2019 when he was terminated upon his guilty plea.

His death comes just days after his wife Leticia O. Lopez died on Sunday, Nov. 8, after a years-long battle with cancer. At the time, she was also a Rio Grande City school board trustee.

The pair are survived by their three sons.