Former migrant detention workers accused of bribery

Three former detention facility officials accused of taking bribes will temporarily remain in custody after making a first appearance in federal court last Thursday morning, a magistrate judge ruled.

Benito Barrientez, 42, of Lyford; Damian Ortiz, 30, of Weslaco; and Exy Adelaido Gomez, 42, of Los Fresnos, appeared in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Morgan to face accusations the trio stole law-enforcement-sensitive lists of immigration detainees and sold the information to an unnamed attorney, who then used the list to solicit clients, according to federal prosecutors.

All three are charged with conspiracy to commit bribery.

Barrientez is charged with two counts of bribery, and Ortiz and Gomez each face a count of bribery.

According to federal prosecutors, Barrientez and Ortiz worked for the Willacy County Regional Detention Center as a classification clerk and a senior program director and Gomez was a corrections officer at the El Valley Detention Center.

Authorities allege that the three suspects obtained the immigration detainee lists from the Port Isabel Detention Center and the El Valle Detention Center and gave the lists to the unnamed attorney, known as “Person A” in the indictment, in exchange for cash.

The activity is alleged to have occurred for roughly a year, between Feb. 10, 2018, and Feb. 6, 2019, according to the indictment.

However, the charging document only specifies exchanges of cash from between Jan. 4 and Jan. 31.

The indictment alleges that on Jan. 4 Barrientez called Gomez and asked her for a list of detainees from the El Valle Detention Center to give to “Person A” for $300, though the payment was then increased to $500.

According to the indictment, Gomez obtained the list, met Barrientez in a parking lot in Harlingen and was paid $500. The indictment states that Barrientez gave the list to Ortiz, who delivered it to another person in Weslaco, who paid Ortiz $350.

That same evening on Jan. 9, Barrientez allegedly obtained another detainee list from the Port Isabel Detention Center from Gomez and paid her $200, according to the indictment.

Federal prosecutors allege Ortiz paid Barrientez $400 for the list the next day.

A few days later on Jan. 14, “Person A” sent a text to Ortiz that said the unnamed attorney would purchase the Port Isabel Detention Center detainee list for $1,000, prosecutors allege. That same day, “Person A” met with Ortiz and gave him a red gift bag containing $1,000, according to the indictment.

The next day, a person associated with “Person A’s” law firm visited a Honduran national detained at the El Valle Detention Center to convince the detainee to hire “Person A’s” law firm, federal prosecutors allege.

Authorities say that by Jan. 22, “Person A” and Ortiz met to discuss continuing efforts to not only obtain the detainee lists, but also to prevent discovery of the alleged purchases. That next day, “Person A” delivered $500 to Ortiz, according to the indictment.

On Jan. 31, “Person A” encouraged Ortiz to continue with the alleged scheme and an individual directed by “Person A” left $670 under a flower pot at Ortiz’s residence, according to federal prosecutors.

No new information was revealed during their brief court appearances last week.

The trio were scheduled to be arraigned on the charges June 4 — and to appear for a detention hearing. A federal prosecutor said he is not opposed to the suspects being released on bond pending the conclusion of their criminal cases.