Sixth La Villa ex-guard arraigned on bribery charge

Special to The Crier Shown is the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa.

McALLEN — The indictment against a sixth former employee of the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa was unsealed Thursday in federal court.

Domingo Gonzalez Hernandez, 25, of Mercedes, was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker Friday morning on the sole charge of bribery of a public official.

According to the indictment, Hernandez, who worked as a correctional officer at the federal prison, is accused of accepting a Chevrolet pickup truck, a gift card and money in exchange for bringing contraband into the facility and distributing it to inmates there. Federal prosecutors allege Hernandez accepted the bribes between September 2016 and July 28, 2018, the indictment reads. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Hacker set Hernandez’s bond at $30,000 with a $1,000 deposit, and required he obtain a court-approved third party custodian. Court records show the bond deposit was posted Friday after-noon.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Randy Crane, with a final pretrial conference slated for Jan. 31, 2020. Jury selection is set for Feb. 4, 2020. Hernandez faces up to 15 years in federal prison, up to a $250,000 fine and up to three years of supervised release.

Hernandez has now become the sixth former employee of the detention center to be charged with wrongdoing in recent weeks.

While the other five men and women made their initial appearances in McAllen federal court late last month, Hernandez was first brought before a judge in New Mexico, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Nov. 26.

Four of the other people charged also face federal bribery charges, including: Jayson Catalan, 37; Erasmo Loya, 54; Veronica Ortega, 43; and Jhaziel Loredo, 32. A second woman, 47-year-old Brenda Alicia Fuentes, is accused of sexually abusing an inmate in federal custody.

Catalan, Loya, Ortega and Loredo are all accused of accepting varying amounts of money in ex-change for smugglings contraband into the facility for prisoners. The contraband ranged from food, to marijuana to Xanax pills, according to the indictments.

Fuentes is accused of carrying out a sexual relationship with an inmate, allegedly performing oral sex on him.

During their bond and detention hearings on Nov. 26 and 27, U.S. Magistrate Judge Juan F. Alanis set bond for the five men and women at $30,000 each, including a $500 deposit for all but Fuentes.

The trials against Loya, Fuentes, Ortega and Loredo are set to go before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez early next month, while Catalan’s trial will be heard by U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa.

Owned by The Geo Group, the private prison houses federal inmates under a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service. Its staff is also responsible for the transportation of U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement detainees. In a statement released via email last month, a spokesperson for The GEO Group said the prison company had terminated the men and women after their arrests. “We will continue to cooperate with law enforcement as they investigate the matter,” the statement read.