Men accused in bribery scheme enter guilty pleas

Two men charged with paying cash in exchange for detainee rosters on behalf of a Weslaco immigration attorney pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges in Brownsville this week.

Benito Barrientez and Damian Ortiz appeared before U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera, Jr. on Monday. Each man entered a guilty plea on one count as part of a deal offered by government prosecutors.

Barrientez and Ortiz were charged alongside Exy Adelaida Gomez in a five-count indictment on May 28, 2019 for their roles in a bribery scheme in which detainee rosters containing private information including names, dates of birth, country of origin, A-numbers, and housing assignments were given to Weslaco-based attorney Roel Alanis, according to authorities

On Wednesday, Barrientez pleaded guilty to count two of the indictment. The document alleged that Barrientez gave $500 to a detention officer at the El Valle Detention Center (EVDC) in exchange for a detainee roster in violation of federal law.

Ortiz pleaded guilty to the fourth count, which accused him of paying $400 to a classification clerk at the Willacy County Regional Detention Center (WCRDC) in exchange for a detainee roster.

The court specified that each man faces up to 15 years, a $250,000 fine, and a five-year term of supervised release at sentencing on April 29. Both men remained out on bond.

All three defendants were employed by Management and Training Corporation, a private, for-profit prison company under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain undocumented immigrants at local facilities.

Court records showed that Barrientez and Ortiz were assigned to WCRDC, where they worked as a classification clerk and a senior program director, respectively. Gomez, who was employed as a detention officer at EVDC in Raymondville, appeared in court this week for a motion hearing and was granted a 30-day continuance.

According to a summary included in both plea agreements, ICE agents commenced a bribery investigation on Jan. 9, 2019 after receiving information that detention facility employees Gomez, Barrientez, and others were involved in a scheme obtaining and selling “Alien Detainee Roster Lists” to a private attorney for compensation.

Alanis was not named in the document and was indicted in a separate case by a federal grand jury on July 23, 2019. That indictment charged the attorney with paying Barrientez and Ortiz to obtain the lists while also providing money for the two men to pay other conspirators.

According to the indictment in Alanis’ case, the attorney and others would then visit detainees seeking employment. Currently, the case is set to go to trial on March 9, according to court records.

According to Wednesday’s plea agreements, Gomez told ICE agents she began communicating with Barrientez on Jan. 4, 2019. Barrientez asked her to obtain the list from EVDC because he recently lost access to such lists, and said that he would provide the lists to Roel Alanis, according to the summary.

On Jan. 9, Barrientez told Gomez he had discussed the matter with Ortiz and that they were willing to pay her $500 for the list, prosecutors say. Gomez obtained a copy of the roster, put it in her purse, and took it out of the facility, according to the summary. Gomez then met with Barrientez in Harlingen and exchanged the list for $500, tipping off agents, who seized the money from her residence, the document stated.

New details revealed that Gomez agreed to cooperate with agents the same day and contacted Barrientez in a recorded call, according to prosecutors. She informed him that she had a roster from the Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC) and later met Barrientez in a parking lot in Harlingen, prosecutors say. Gomez accepted payment for the roster before agents detained him, according to the document.

In a recorded call on Jan. 10, Barrientez informed Ortiz he had obtained a “receipt” for delivery from PIDC and was willing to provide it for payment, according to the plea agreement, which specified that “receipt” was a code work for detainee rosters.

Ortiz met Barrientez in a Whataburger parking lot in Raymondville and handed Barrientez $400, the document stated.

Agents detained Ortiz, who stated that Alanis allegedly offered him $1,000 for the PIDC roster. He also told investigators that he paid Barrientez $750 for the EVDC roster and passed the list on to Alanis’ associate, according to the summary.

ICE agents obtained information from Alanis’ cell phone showing text messages between him, his associates, and Ortiz discussing the detainee rosters, payments, and photos of several rosters, according to the document.

The plea agreements also revealed that Barrientez estimated he supplied a total of 15 to 20 rosters. Ortiz estimated that he delivered 30 to 40 rosters between Aug. 2018 and Jan. 2019.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com