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More Victims Added to Sex Abuse Indictment of Former Federal Prison Warden in California; Former Chaplain Sentenced for Role in ‘Rape Club’

by Jo Ellen Nott

With two former Bureau of Pri­sons (BOP) staffers convicted of sexually abusing prisoners and three more charged and awaiting trial — including the former warden — the “rape club” scandal continues to widen at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Dublin, California. It now counts a total of eight prisoner victims.

On August 23, 2022, a federal grand jury in Oakland issued a superseding indictment charging former Warden Ray J. Garcia with sexually abusing two more prisoners. Garcia, 55, was first indicted for sexual abuse of a ward on November 2, 2021, for allegedly forcing a prisoner to touch his genitals. [See: PLN, Jan. 2022, p.30.]

Eight days after the new indictment against him, on August 31, 2022, former prison chaplain James Theodore Highhouse, 49, became the second FCI-Dublin employee sentenced in the scandal. The federal court for the Northern District of California handed him a seven-year prison term — more than double the recommended punishment in federal sentencing guidelines for sexual abuse of a ward.

“It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe how egregious an abuse of these victims this was,” declared Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr., who ordered the disgraced spiritual leader to report to prison on November 2, 2022. He must also register as a sex offender upon release.

The other convicted former employee, recycling technician Ross Klinger, 37, pleaded guilty in February 2022 to coercing sex from two prisoners in 2020 with promises of marriage. [See: PLN, Aug. 5, 2022, online.]

His former boss, John Russell Bellhouse, 39, was also charged with shaking down a prisoner for sex in late 2020 and early 2021, currying her favor with earrings and use of his office phone. He has been free on $50,000 bond since shortly after his November 2021 arrest, and he is awaiting trial in 2023. Another two victims were listed for him in a superseding indictment unsealed on September 29, 2022. See: USA v. Bellhouse, USDC (N.D. Calif.), Case No. 4:22-cr-00066.

The third BOP employee still facing charges is Enrique Chavez, 49, a guard assigned to kitchen supervisory duties who was charged with sexually abusing a prisoner on March 23, 2022. [See: PLN, May 2022, p.28.] His guilty plea was entered as expected on October 27, 2022. See: USA v. Chavez, USDC (N.D. Calif.), Case No. 4:22-cr-00104.

Former Warden Garcia’s new indictment includes a total of seven counts of sexually abusive conduct and one count of making false statements to government agents investigating allegations the warden propositioned a total of three prisoners, forcing them to strip naked before he photographed, fondled, penetrated, and extorted them.

After the first prisoner accused Garcia, investigators found nude photos of other female prisoners on his government-issued cellphone, leading to the new indictment. All the accusations stem from events that allegedly occurred at the prison between December 2019 and March 2020, as well as an interview with investigators in which he allegedly lied about the incidents on July 22, 2021.

Garcia has been free on bond since his September 2021 arrest. His jury trial is scheduled for November 21, 2022, also in federal court for the Northern District of California. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years for each of three counts of sexual abuse of a ward, and up to two years for each of four counts of abusive sexual contact, plus an additional eight years for his alleged false statements to investigators. Each charge also carries a maximum fine of $250,000. See: USA v. Garcia, USDC (N.D. Calif.), Case No. 21-cr-00429.

Highhouse had also been free on bond after his arrest in January 2022. He pleaded guilty the following month to using one prisoner’s faith and fear to coerce sex from her, though he allegedly abused several other prisoners, telling them that everyone in the Bible had sexual relations and God wanted them to be together. Prosecutors said he went so far as to appeal to one prisoner’s patriotism, pressuring her to serve her country by sexually servicing him on Veterans Day. On Thanksgiving he told another prisoner to show her gratitude by having sex with him.

Two other FCI-Dublin employees were reportedly walked off the job and placed on leave on March 23, 2022, a day after former prisoner Andrea Reyes implicated them in the scandal during a TV news interview. One of them, guard Nicholas Ramos, 37, has since committed suicide on August 21, 2022. No charges had then been filed against him or the other guard, Sergio Saucedo.

Meanwhile one of Klinger’s alleged victims filed a suit for damages in federal court for the Northern District of California on September 9, 2022. In her complaint, the now-released prisoner, identified as M.R., also accuses Highhouse and Saucedo of bullying and threatening her if she reported their fellow employee’s abuse. See: M.R. v. Fed. Corr. Ctr. Dublin, USDC (N.D. Calif.), Case No. 5:22-cv-05137. 

Additional sources: Dublin Independent, KTVU, PBS, Religion News

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