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Privately Run Seal Beach, California Jail Closed Following Checkered Past

by John E. Dannenberg

With salacious tales of murderous and thieving former guards splashed across local headlines, Seal Beach, California officials shut down their privately-run jail on June 15, 2007.

The city claimed that the jail?s for-profit contractor, Texas-based Correctional Systems, Inc. (CSI), not only failed to make money but cost the city thousands of dollars annually. ?We dismissed the vendor for a failure to produce a profit,? said Seal Beach Police Chief Jeffrey Kirkpatrick. ?We had to share a loss and that was not tenable.?

In addition to losing money, CSI managed to score 15 major deficiencies during jail inspections in recent years, including having no written policy for grievances, no policy to segregate prisoners with infectious diseases, and no policy to isolate the mentally ill. But closing the 30-bed jail after 13 years of operation was about more than unsatisfactory performance or financial problems ? it involved one of the most sordid crimes in the history of Orange County, California.

Most average citizens are unaware that there are upper echelon pay-to-stay jails in southern California where non-violent patrons may purchase protected and preferential treatment, including access to laptop computers and cell phones. Typically costing from $70 to $175 per day, such jails cater to well-heeled folks who need to work off a pesky indiscretion that resulted in a criminal conviction. The Seal Beach Jail was one of those cushy pay-to-stay facilities.

Apparently, CSI matched its lackadaisical clientele held at the jail with even more apathetic guards. And, as history has proven, when correctional staff discipline is lax the difference between the behavior of the prisoners and that of their keepers becomes blurred, at best. CSI evidently addressed its operational cost angle at the facility by hiring inexperienced, young guards. When the dust settled, four former jail guards had been charged with offenses ranging from forgery and theft to capital murder.

In 2006, jail guard Fred Madrigal, 21, together with guards Michael Navarro, 22, and Victor Calzada, 29, stole a Sony PlayStation game console belonging to a prisoner who transferred to the Orange County Jail. To cover up the theft they destroyed the prisoner?s original property card and created a new one that omitted the PlayStation, forging the prisoner?s signature. The three ex-guards now face up to four years in prison for forgery, falsifying public documents and removing public papers. Two of the former guards failed to appear for their arraignment; when Madrigal showed up later he had to post $25,000 bail. CSI placed him on administrative leave.

But a far more sinister plot was hatched in the Seal Beach Jail in 2003. While held at the facility, convicted burglar Skylar Deleon was allowed to work off his year-long sentence for a crime involving the use of a gun. Because the state?s criminal database had omitted the detail of his use of a firearm, Seal Beach let him spend nights at the jail while enjoying work furlough during the days and weekends. It was during one of those furloughs in December 2003 that Deleon allegedly conned 45-year-old Jon Peter Jarvi into refinancing his condo and giving Deleon the $55,000 in profits to ?invest.? Upon picking up the money, Deleon slit Jarvi?s throat, dumped his body by the side of the road in Mexico, and was let back into the Seal Beach Jail late that night by Alonso Machain, an accommodating 21-year-old guard.

Despite the $55,000 in ill-gotten gains, Deleon, a former Power Rangers child actor, wanted more money. In November 2004, while on probation, Deleon, together with his pregnant wife and three accomplices, including Machain (who had lost his job at the jail), developed a plan to con a retired probation officer and his wife out of their retirement dream yacht, kill them, and dispose of the bodies on the high seas. When Thomas Hawks, 57, and his wife Jackie, 47, placed their $435,000, 55-foot yacht named the ?Well Deserved? on the Orange County market so they could retire to Arizona, they had the ill fate to attract Deleon and his gang as interested buyers.

Through cunning and deceit, Deleon convinced the Hawks to take them on a trial cruise of the boat. It was during that voyage that Deleon, Machain and a third accomplice, John Kennedy, brutally beat the Hawks and then chained them to an anchor and threw them overboard, after first forcing them to disclose their bank account information and sign over the deed to the yacht.

Much of the grisly story came to light after Machain confessed and gave up the others, hoping to gain preferential prosecutorial treatment. Deleon?s wife, Jennifer, 26, was convicted of first-degree murder in November 2006 for her part in reassuring the Hawks by using her infant child as a decoy, and then cleaning up the boat after the killings. She received two consecutive life sentences without parole. Deleon and Kennedy, who face the death penalty, were scheduled to go to trial in late January 2008, while the charges against former jail guard Machain and another defendant are still pending.

Tom Hawks? brothers have stated they would like to see the ?justice? of having the cold-blooded killers dragged out to sea, tied to an anchor and tossed overboard. The Seal Beach Jail has left a bitter legacy, indeed.

Sources: Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Scottsdale Times

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