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April 27, 2021Brownsville, TX, United StatesDocument and Benefit Fraud

South Texas attorney pleads guilty to bribery scheme

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — A South Texas attorney pleaded guilty on Tuesday for his role in a conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery of a public official.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of Professional and Responsibility (OPR) jointly conducted the investigation with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Harlingen and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG).

On April 27, Roel Alaniz, 40, from Weslaco, Texas, entered his guilty pleas in U.S. district court.

According to court documents, Alaniz admitted he paid immigration detention employees for detainee rosters. The lists were provided to him or his sister, Cynthia Alaniz, who is also an attorney in the Rio Grande Valley.

The detainee lists were from the El Valle Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas, and the Port Isabel Detention Center, in Los Fresnos, Texas. The lists contained names, dates of birth, country of origin and noncitizen immigration numbers. After obtaining the lists, the attorneys would visit the noncitizens to entice them for representation in immigration proceedings.

Alaniz faces up to 15 years in federal prison for the bribery conviction and up to five years for the conspiracy conviction. Both convictions also carry a maximum $250,000 fine. Alaniz remains out on bond. Sentencing is set for Aug. 2.

Benito Barrientez, 43, from Lyford, Texas, and Damian Ortiz, 31, from Weslaco, were two employees of the Willacy County Regional Detention Center who sold the lists to Alaniz. They both pleaded guilty Feb. 4, 2020, to conspiracy and bribery of a public official. Sentencing is set for May 11.

Cynthia Alaniz, 28, from Weslaco, pleaded guilty Feb. 3, to making a false statement in a bribery investigation. She is scheduled to be sentenced May 5. Barrientez, Ortiz and Cynthia Alaniz remain out on bond until their sentencing court date.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Oscar Ponce, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.

Updated: 05/04/2021