Seventh La Villa guard arrested for bribery

A seventh former staffer at the East Hidalgo County Detention Center in La Villa has been arrested on federal bribery charges.

Weslaco resident Amber Estrada, 21, is accused of accepting bribes in exchange for bringing contraband into the federal prison where she served as a correctional officer, according to a copy of the criminal indictment against her.

The government alleges that between May 2018 and Jan. 31, 2019, Estrada received money and a horse in exchange for bringing and distributing the contraband to inmates at the facility, the indictment stated.

Estrada has now become the seventh former employee of the privately owned prison to be indicted for bribery and other crimes — including her mother, Brenda Alicia Fuentes, 47, who has been charged with sexual abuse of an inmate.

Fuentes, who previously worked as a cook supervisor at the facility, made her initial appearance in late November on a charge of carrying on a sexual relationship with an inmate. She has pleaded not guilty to the allegations.

During Fuentes’ bond and detention hearing, prosecutors brought up her daughter, Estrada, as a person who was also under investigation.

When discussing terms for Fuentes’ release on bond, prosecutors initially urged the court to deny bond due to concerns about being able to identify a suitable third party custodian for Fuentes.

“Our main concern is we didn’t want her to live with her daughter, who is a correctional officer,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy L. Greenbaum said then.

Estrada had allegedly said she felt like she was “about to be arrested” as well, according to prosecutors during that November court hearing. At the time of the hearing, Estrada was no longer working in La Villa, and was instead working at a detention center in Raymondville, prosecutors said.

Of the five others who have also been charged with bribery of public officials, three were correctional officers, including Jhaziel Loredo, of Progreso, Domingo Gonzalez Hernandez, of Mercedes, and Erasmo Loya, of Edcouch. Another man, Jayson Catalan, served as a commissary officer. A third woman, Veronica Ortega, of McAllen, worked as a certified medical assistant.

Earlier this month, Catalan and Loredo changed their pleas to guilty and await sentencing.

Meanwhile, Estrada was expected to make her initial appearance in court Monday morning after being arrested by federal agents last week, according to a statement released Friday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.

If convicted, she faces up to 15 years in prison, up to a $250,000 fine, and up to three years of supervised release, court records show.