LAWFUEL- The Law News Network – In a crackdown on the illegal smuggling of contraband into the Metropolitan Detention Center-Los Angeles (MDC-LA), federal investigators have arrested three federal correctional officers and a former correctional officer now employed by the Department of Homeland Security on federal charges of accepting cash bribes in return for delivering cellular phones and cigarettes to inmates. After being indicted by a federal grand jury, the defendants were all taken into custody this morning and are expected to make their initial court appearances this afternoon.
“Officials who abuse their positions of trust undermine our entire system of government, and their prosecution will be given a very high priority in my office,” said United States Attorney Debra Wong Yang. “Those who break their promise to uphold the law not only risk losing their jobs, they also risk losing their freedom. Officials working within penal institutions must always abide by a bright line of acceptable and legal conduct. Such behavior is a necessity in maintaining and running a detention facility.”
Juan Cortes, a 34-year-old San Diego resident, was indicted on two counts of bribery and two counts of providing contraband to an inmate. Cortes was an employee of the Bureau of Prisons from December 2003 to May 2005, when he left and became an immigration enforcement agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The indictment alleges that Cortes, while he was employed at MDC-LA as a correctional officer, accepted $6,000 in cash in return for providing an inmate at MDC-LA with a cellular phone and three cartons of cigarettes. The indictment also accuses Cortes of accepting another $5,000 bribe in exchange for providing the inmate with a second cellular phone. If convicted, Cortes faces a maximum possible sentence of 31 years in prison.
Anthony Robuffo, a 39-year-old resident of Fullerton, was charged with two counts of bribery and two counts of providing contraband to an inmate. Robuffo has been employed by the Bureau of Prisons, an agency within the United States Department of Justice, for the past three years. The indictment alleges that Robuffo accepted $5,000 in cash in return for providing an inmate at MDC-LA with a cellular phone and $1,500 in cash for three cartons of cigarettes. If convicted of the four charges, Robuffo faces a maximum possible sentence of 31 years in prison.
Ricardo Campos, a 26-year-old El Monte resident, was charged with bribery and providing contraband to an inmate. Campos allegedly accepted a $5,000 bribe in return for providing a cellular phone to an inmate at MDC-LA. Campos has been employed by the Bureau of Prisons for three years. If convicted, Campos faces a maximum possible sentence of 15½ years in prison.
Juan Nieto, a 30-year-old Southgate resident, was charged with bribery for accepting $1,000 in return for agreeing to provide an inmate at MDC-LA with two cartons of cigarettes. Nieto has been employed by the Bureau of Prisons since July 2003. If convicted, Nieto faces a maximum possible sentence of 15 years in prison. Michael L. Benov, the warden at MDC-LA, stated: “It is an unfortunate situation anytime employees choose to involve themselves in criminal activities. This collaborative law enforcement effort will send out a powerful message that corruption will not be tolerated.”
J. Stephen Tidwell, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, praised the cooperation the FBI received from Warden Benov and his staff at MDC-LA as part of the continued fight to root out corruption at all levels in the penal system. Tidwell added: “Today’s announcement demonstrates the unwavering commitment of the MDC, the FBI and the Office of the Inspector General, to ensure the honesty and integrity of our prison personnel.”
Kenneth R. Strange Jr., the special agent in charge of the Office of Inspector General for the United States Department of Justice, commented: “The Department of Justice expects all employees to maintain the utmost integrity and the highest ethical standards. It is the role of the Office of the Inspector General to help safeguard the integrity and to fully investigate all instances of employee wrongdoing. It is also important to remember the good work that goes on at the Bureau of Prisons every day because their mission has never been more important.”
Cortes, Robuffo and Campos were indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles on December 13. Nieto was indicted on Tuesday.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The cases were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice.