7 Enter Guilty Pleas In Operation Prison Cell Racketeering Case
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Seven former Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) correction officers have pleaded guilty in the large-scale racketeering case involving the McConnell Unit in Beeville, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today.
The hearing lasted all day and concluded less than an hour ago. Former McConnell Unit employees Stephanie Deming, 23, of Beeville, Christy Nesloney, 27, of Cuero, Kimberly Koenig, 32, of Victoria, Yvonne Sandoval, 36, of Sinton, Jaime Garza, 38, of Santa Elena, each entered pleas of guilty to one count of racketeering. Former correction officer Justin Leonard, 23, of Conroe, entered his guilty plea to possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The former officers admitted to acts of bribery and drug trafficking inside and outside the prison system. Not charged in the racketeering count, former correction officer Jamar Green, 29, of Refugio, pleaded to possession with intent to distribute ecstasy. These seven defendants are set for sentencing June 24, 2013.
A total of 30 defendants were taken into custody in late February in relation to this case, including 17 former TDCJ officers. Two other defendants remain fugitives. The cases against the other 25 defendants are still pending and they are presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law. They are set for trial July 8, 2013. The indictment remains sealed as to those charged but not as yet in custody.
The arrests of those charged were a joint effort between TDCJ-Office of Inspector General and federal authorities to attempt to break the “culture of corruption” that permeated the McConnell Unit Prison during a period between 2005 to the present. State and federal authorities worked together in a determined effort to disrupt and dismantle the violent criminal gangs who were profiting through the corruption of guards at the prison.
According to the indictment, 14 former TDCJ correction officers were part of a criminal enterprise that engaged in bribery and narcotics trafficking. The indictment details specific acts, wherein the correction officers assisted prisoners incarcerated in the TDCJ McConnell Unit Prison in Beeville by smuggling cellular telephones and drugs into the prison system. The drugs and phones were allegedly sold inside the prison to other inmates. The phones were used by inmates to assist in their coordination of criminal activities outside the prison, according to the allegations.
The investigation was initiated in 2009 when several Aryan Circle Gang Members were apprehended attempting to transport stolen vehicles from Corpus Christi to Brownsville. The vehicles were destined to be smuggled across the border and sold to Mexico Cartel members. The operation was coordinated by inmates incarcerated at the McConnell Unit through the use of illegal cell phones.
The resulting investigation led to a December 2010 federal indictment charging 14 alleged members and associates of the Raza Unida Street and Prison Gang with committing violent acts to support racketeering (VICAR). These violent acts included home invasions, shootings and conspiracy to commit murder. During the course of the investigation, agents and officers seized approximately 13 pounds of crystal methamphetamine with an estimated street value of more than $300,000. Additionally, seven assault rifles, 14 pistols, five shotguns, five bullet proof vests and approximately 1,000 rounds of ammunition were seized from the gang. All were subsequently convicted, two of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment.
The overall case is the result of a four-year investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations, TDCJ-OIG, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Corpus Christi Police Department Gang and Organized Crime Units, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Bee County District Attorney’s office.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Patterson and Michael Hess.