by Keith Sanders
On June 27, 2022, the last of a trio of private prison employees — plus two immigration attorneys — who were sentenced in a bribery scandal at two Texas prisons holding federal detainees surrendered to U.S. Marshals to begin serving his sentence.
Damian Ortiz, 33, a former senior program director at the now-closed Willacy County Regional Detention Center (WCRDC), began a 20-month federal prison term handed down on April 19, 2022, for his role in a scheme to steal lists of immigrant detainees held for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at nearby El Valle Detention Facility (EVDF) and sell them to attorney Roel Alanis, who then solicited their business to represent them in immigration proceedings. Both prisons are privately operated by Utah-based Management and Training Corp. (MTC).
Alanis’ sister, former Hidalgo County Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Alanis, 29, was sentenced in July 2021 to one year of probation for lying to federal agents investigating her brother. Roel Alanis, 32, was sentenced in March 2022 to a 30-month federal prison term for conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery of a public official. See: USA v. Alanis, USDC (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 1:20-cr-00118; and USA v. Alanis, USDC (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 1:19-cr-00673.
He admitted buying the lists from Ortiz and a fellow WCRDC employee, Benito Barrientez, who got them from an EVDF employee, Exy Adelaida Gomez. Barrientez, 44, a former WCRDC classification clerk, was also sentenced on April 19, 2022, to a 20-month prison term. Gomez, 44, received a one-year probated sentence on the same date. See: USA v. Barrientez, USDC (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 1:19-cr-00520.
After a 2015 riot and fire destroyed the original WCRDC facility, the county lost 400 jobs and $8.1 million in annual revenue from its privately contracted operator, CoreCivic, which also lost the contract to run it. In 2018, MTC stepped in with a new 1,000 bed facility, paying the county $3 per day for each detainee held there for the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS).
But in April 2022, MTC also pulled out, after Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D) ordered the federal Department of Justice (DOJ), parent agency of USMS, to phase out use of private prisons, and a six-month extension to run the facility expired. Stung by the loss of 200 jobs, county commissioners were negotiating a lease in August 2022 for part of the 582-bed jail with neighboring Hidalgo County to ease overcrowding in its lockup. But no contract has been finalized as PLN goes to press.
Additional sources: Brownsville Herald, KVEO, Mission Progress-Times
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Related legal cases
USA v. Alanis
|Cite||USDC (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 1:19-cr-00673|
USA v. Barrientez
|Cite||USDC (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 1:19-cr-00520|
USA v. Alanis
|Cite||USDC (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 1:20-cr-00118|