A grand jury indicted six East Hidalgo Detention Center employees last week on bribery and sexual abuse charges.
After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, the grand jury indicted three correctional officers, a commissary officer, a cook supervisor and a certified medical assistant on Nov. 19.
All six worked at the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa, which is owned by The GEO Group, a private prison company headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida.
“We can confirm that all of these employees were terminated from their positions shortly after their arrests,” according to a statement released by GEO Group. “We will continue to cooperate with law enforcement as they investigate the matter.”
The East Hidalgo Detention Center holds inmates for the U.S. Marshals Service.
Both the Marshals Service and the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General referred questions about the investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, which is prosecuting the former employees.
“According to the indictments, authorities discovered various forms of contraband in EHDC, a correctional facility under contract with the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS),” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
The indictments charged Correctional Officer Erasmo Loya, 54, of La Villa; Correctional Officer Jhaziel Loredo, 32, of Progreso; Correctional Officer Domingo Hernandez, 25, of Mercedes; Commissary Officer Jayson Catalan, 36, of Mercedes; and Certified Medical Assistant Veronica Ortega, 43, of McAllen with bribery.
They provided inmates with contraband in exchange for cash, according to the indictments, which don’t provide any details about the contraband or how much cash they accepted.
The grand jury also indicted Brenda Fuentes, 47, of Weslaco, a cook supervisor accused of sexually abusing an inmate.
Fuentes engaged in sexual activity with the inmate from July 30 to Aug. 8, 2018, according to the indictment against her.
While the former employees face a maximum of 15 years in federal prison, they’ll probably receive much shorter sentences — or probation.
In 2011, a grand jury indicted Laura Ortiz, a nurse assistant at the East Hidalgo Detention Center accused of providing an inmate with marijuana.
Ortiz pleaded guilty to providing or possessing contraband in prison. U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced her to three years probation.
In 2012, a grand jury indicted Jorge Luis Sandoval, a correctional officer at the East Hidalgo Detention Center accused of providing inmates with phones in exchange for cash.
Sandoval pleaded guilty to bribery. U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa sentenced him to one year and one day in prison.
Contraband is a constant problem in prisons, where the promise of quick cash tempts poorly paid correctional officers. Guards regularly confiscate drugs and cell phones from inmates.
“A lot of these guards don’t make a lot of money, so they’re going to do whatever they have to do to make money,” said a former warden at the East Hidalgo Detention Center, who spoke with the Progress Times on the condition of anonymity. “It’s bad. It’s real bad.”