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Texas Prison Chief Escapes Sex Charges, Convicted of Lesser Offenses

On March 31, 2006, in a Walker County courthouse, Salvador ?Sammy? Buentello pleaded guilty to a felony charge of unlawful restraint and five counts of official oppression. Buentello, 50, had been the assistant director of gang affairs for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) until he was forced to retire in May 2004 after being accused of sexual misconduct.

In June 2004 the former prison chief was indicted on three counts of sexual assault, faced up to 20 years in prison for each count, and would have had to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

But Buentello was able to work a deal and eventually pleaded guilty to a felony charge of unlawful restraint and five misdemeanor counts of official oppression. In exchange the three sexual assault charges were dropped.

Buentello had originally been accused of what prosecutors called a pattern of sexual harassment ?involving inappropriate comments, touchings and intimidation to several individuals? who were female TDCJ employees.
He received five years deferred adjudication for the felony charge, a year?s probation on each of the misdemeanors and a $7,000 fine. The ex-prison chief must also receive psychiatric counseling and sexual therapy evaluations; however, he will not be required to register as a sex offender.

Also, under Texas law, if Buentello successfully completes his five-year deferred adjudication, the felony charge will not go on his record.
According to prosecutor David Weeks, ?This plea bargain finally vindicates the victims who for so long were trapped in an intimidating work environment ... [and] also serves as a victory against all those who knew of Mr. Buentello?s conduct but consciously disregarded it.?

TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons, presumably with a straight face, commented that ?TDCJ has zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment.?

Source: Austin American-Statesman, Associated Press

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