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29 taken into custody in southeast Texas in massive racketeering indictment, including 17 former state correction officers

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A sealed indictment charging numerous defendants with racketeering violations was unsealed following their recent arrests throughout the Southern District of Texas and elsewhere. Those arrested include 17 former Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) correction officers and 12 others in relation to the case.

This indictment was announced Wednesday by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson along with the following agency heads: Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Inspector General Bruce Toney, of TDCJ's Office of the Inspector General (TDCJOIG); Lucy Cruz, special agent in charge of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI); Melvin King Jr., special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Chief Floyd D. Simpson of the Corpus Christi Police Department (CCPD); and Postal Inspector in Charge Robert B. Wemyss of U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Following an operation involving federal, state and local law enforcement personnel, a total of 22 have been arrested on criminal charges in the indictment. Seven defendants named in the indictment were already in custody. As a result, a total of 29 people are now in custody in connection with the four-year investigation. Seventeen former correction officers were also arrested, 13 on racketeering charges and four on separate drug charges. The indictment remains sealed for those charged but not as yet in custody.

The arrest of the former correction officers was a joint effort between TDCJ-OIG 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 returned under seal by a federal grand jury last week, 13 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.

Today's announcement caps a four-year investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office, HSI, TDCJ-OIG, IRS-CI, ATF, CCPD Gang and Organized Crime Units, USPIS and the Bee County District Attorney's office. 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 about 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 about 1,000 rounds of ammunition were seized from the gang. All were subsequently convicted, two of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Patterson and Michael Hess, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting this case.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.