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Four Texas Guards Nabbed in Bribery Sting

Four Texas state prison guards face felony bribery charges after agreeing to launder supposed drug money for prisoners, authorities told The Associated Press.

The four were arrested January 24, 2000 after walking into an undercover sting orchestrated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Internal Affairs office and the Goliad County Sheriff's Office. Three of the suspects, Eliseo Martinez, 29, his wife Kimberly Martinez, 23, and brother-in-law Ronald Belcher, 24, were guards at the McConnell Unit in Beeville, about 40 miles northwest of Corpus Christi. The fourth was Mark Valdez, 31, a guard at the nearby Garza West Unit.

Investigators developed the case after receiving an informant tip that "free world individuals along with people at the prison" were involved in a drug money laundering operation, TDCJ spokesman Larry Todd said. He refused to elaborate on the alleged conspiracy and said investigators do not know whether the guards had succeeded in laundering any money.

The Martinezes and Belcher were arrested in an "undisclosed location" [probably a parking lot] after Eliseo Martinez accepted a package from an undercover officer. Martinez believed the package contained $60,000, Todd said, and agreed to launder $50,000 for an unnamed prisoner and keep $10,000 for himself. Martinez's wife and brother-in-law were nearby acting as lookouts. All three were quickly arrested as soon as Martinez took the package.

Valdez was arrested at his Beeville home a few hours later after agreeing to a similar money laundering arrangement, Todd said. Valdez was supposed to have met with an undercover cop to pick up the cash, but sent his 16-year-old half brother instead. The brother was questioned and released.

All four guards were charged with bribery, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Mrs. Martinez was also charged with aggravated assault on a police officer because she drove her Ford Explorer into an Internal Affairs officer's car while attempting to flee, authorities said.

Todd said that both Martinezes resigned from their jobs and that "appropriate action" would be taken against the other two.

Source: The Associated Press

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