Former La Villa detention center staffers plead guilty to bribery

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

McALLEN — Two former employees at the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa have reached deals with federal prosecutors, pleading guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for smuggling contraband into the facility.

Jayson Catalan, 37, of Mercedes, appeared in federal court for a re-arraignment hearing March 2. There, he changed his plea to guilty on the sole count of the indictment, bribery of public officials and witnesses.

Prosecutors allege that Catalan — who for three years served as a commissary officer at the federal detention facility — smuggled food for prisoners in exchange for money approximately a dozen times between January and July 2019.

Catalan allegedly smuggled the contraband food inside his own lunch and met with prisoners’ families outside the facility to accept approximately $80 in payment per occurrence, prosecutors said.

“He was asked by inmates to do a favor and then another inmate would notice,” and also ask for a favor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Greenbaum said during Catalan’s bond and detention hearing last November.

And on March 4, Jhaziel Loredo, 32, of Progreso, also changed his plea to guilty on the sole count of his indictment, bribery of public officials and witnesses.

Prosecutors allege Loredo accepted hundreds of dollars to smuggle Xanax and marijuana into the prison between October 2018 and August 2019.

During his November bond and detention hearing, Greenbaum said the charges against Loredo were especially serious since — as a correctional officer — one of his responsibilities was to conduct inmate “shakedowns” for contraband.

In exchange for their guilty pleas, the government will recommend the offense level according to federal sentencing guidelines be decreased by two levels, according to copies of the plea agreements.

Sentencing for Catalan has been set for May 12, while Loredo’s has been scheduled for June 24. Both men remain out on bond.

Meanwhile, the cases against four other former employees of the prison remain ongoing. Like Catalan and Loredo, three of the former staffers face federal bribery charges. Erasmo Loya, 54; Domingo Gonzalez Hernandez, 25; and Veronica Ortega, 43, stand accused of accepting various amounts of money and/or physical gifts in exchange for smuggling contraband into the prison. The contraband varied from food to drugs.

A second woman, 47-year old Brenda Alicia Fuentes, is accused of sexual abuse of an inmate in federal custody. Prosecutors say Fuentes carried on a sexual relationship with the man, allegedly performing oral sex on him.