McALLEN, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — Former Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero, who is awaiting sentencing on bribery and bankruptcy fraud charges, turned himself in Thursday after the McAllen Police Department charged him with a new crime: theft of service.
Omar X. Romero, 40, of McAllen is accused of failing to pay a contractor about $6,600. He denied any wrongdoing.
During a hearing on Thursday morning, attorney Regina “Regi” Richardson of Edinburg, who represents Romero, said the police report had “issues” and told a judge that Romero would challenge the arrest warrant.
“This issue seems to be of a civil nature,” Richardson said.
Romero worked for the city of Peñitas from 2015 to 2021, when he pleaded guilty to federal bribery and bankruptcy fraud charges.
As part of his plea, Romero admitted to bribing a member of the Agua Special Utility District board and taking $50,000 from Hidalgo County EMS after the struggling ambulance company declared bankruptcy.
The case against Romero is part of a federal investigation that focused on corruption in western Hidalgo County. Prosecutors brought charges against nearly a dozen people, including two former members of the La Joya school board and the former mayor of Peñitas.
Romero cooperated with the government. He may testify during a trial in 2024.
Peñitas replaced Romero after he pleaded guilty. Romero, though, remained a consultant for the city — and Peñitas paid nearly $5,500 per month for his services.
Romero also worked in construction.
In 2023, a doctor hired Romero to renovate a home in McAllen.
“This was a house construction-remodel type of situation,” Richardson said.
The home suffered water damage in May. Romero contacted ServiceMaster Restoration by Five Star, which is based in Mission, to clean up the damages.
ServiceMaster and Romero told different stories about the agreement, according to a McAllen Police Department report obtained by CBS 4 News.
Romero said ServiceMaster estimated the job would cost $1,800 to $2,000.
ServiceMaster, however, said $2,000 was just the deposit.
Romero didn’t pay the deposit, according to ServiceMaster, and balked when the company billed him about $6,600 for the cleanup work.
When he didn’t pay, ServiceMaster filed a report with the McAllen Police Department.
Romero, meanwhile, maintained that ServiceMaster never told him the job would cost $6,600. He provided the company with a cashier’s check for $2,000 but refused to pay the remaining $4,600.
Richardson said the dispute is a “very common civil situation,” and she didn’t see any indication that Romero intended to defraud anyone.
After conducting an investigation, the McAllen Police Department concluded Romero should be charged with theft of service, a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, Romero faces a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Richardson requested a personal recognizance bond for Romero.
“This is not a violent offense,” Richardson said. “He has ties to the community. He is a business owner.”
McAllen Municipal Judge Lauren Sepulveda set bond at $1,000.
“I did see your client is currently out on bond for some pending federal charges,” Sepulveda said, referencing the corruption case.
“And as part of that, judge, he’s under the supervision of Pretrial Services,” Richardson said. “I’m sure your honor is aware of what that process is. So he’s already under supervision.”
Officers transported Romero to the Hidalgo County jail, where he was booked at 12:16 p.m. Romero was released at 2:46 p.m.
Less than two hours later, Romero appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Juan F. Alanis at the federal courthouse in McAllen.
The misdemeanor charge had raised questions about whether Romero had violated the conditions of his release, which require him to obey all local, state and federal laws.
Attorney Thomas J. McHugh of San Antonio, who represents Romero in the federal case, said he considered the issue a “misunderstanding” between his client and the contractor.
The issue should be a civil matter, McHugh said, not a criminal matter.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr., who is prosecuting the federal case, said the government would defer to the court.
After reviewing the facts and listening to McHugh’s arguments, Alanis decided to allow Romero to remain free on bond.