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Thirteen CEC Employees Indicted for Smuggling at Texas Private Prison

By Matthew Clarke

On January 30, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had arrested twelve guards and a cook who were employed by private prison company Community Education Centers (CEC) at the Ector County Correctional Center (ECCC) in Odessa, Texas. The ECCC holds about 235 prisoners and is being operated by CEC under contract with the United States Marshals Service (USMS).

The indictments are against Valerie Ann Arenivas, 22, Ashley Dawn Clark, 29, Jazmine Desiree Cruz, 19, Barbara Jean Garrett, 52, Jennifer Amida Lopez, 25, Jonathon Wayne Meza, 29, Nancy Torres Morales, 36, Gabriel Angel Navarette, 23, Dennis Earl Newsome, 63, Jovanna Marie Olivarez, 21, Charlette Smith, 46, Jessica Lucia Smith, 33, and Matthew Ryan Williams, 26. Each is charged individually with one count of accepting a bribe. Each faces up to 15 years in prison and up to a quarter-million dollar fine. The indictments specifically charge a violation of U.S.C. § 201(b)(2)(C) and state that the contract with the USMS conferred on the CEC employees the status of "public official” making accepting the bribe and smuggling a breach of official duties.

The indictments were initially sealed, but were unsealed after the arrests were made. They allege that, in 2011 and 2012, the CEC employees smuggled contraband such as tobacco, marijuana, cellphones and cellphone charges to prisoners at ECCC in exchange for cash payments. In Newsome’s case, it was a bribe of $1,000 to smuggle in a cellphone.

ECCC warden Linvel Mosby issued a statement that the company was taking the problem seriously and affirmed that most of the ECCC employees were not involved. However, the relatively large number of employees involved in this case compared to the size of the prisoner population at ECCC, suggests the potential for a systemic problem at this facility.

Sources: USDOJ News Release, Odessa American Online

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