Four Texas parole officers were jailed in Houston on Monday as authorities began the first arrests in a continuing, year-long federal and state investigation into allegations that the officers took payoffs to ignore drug-trafficking and other illegal activity by recently freed convicts.
The news came as officials with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department announced that three employees at its troubled South Texas lockup, the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg, were arrested on charges of official oppression and tampering with records over allegations that youths were abused by guards.
In Houston, U.S. Attorney Ken Magidson said the indictments allege that the four arrested parole officers took bribes averaging $1,000 to allow parolees to continue dealing drugs. On one occasion, the payoff was $3,000.
The arrested officers were identified as April L. Carson, 35, of Missouri City, and Crystal M. Washington, 52; Darlene J. Muhammad, 42, and Ernie Rogers, 56, all of Houston.
Officials said the investigation is continuing, hinting that other arrests are likely.
Federal authorities said the four officers worked at two Houston parole offices, where allegations of bribery and exchange of sexual favors had been under investigation for some time.
If convicted, Magidson said each defendant faces up to 20 years imprisonment and a possible $250,000 fine.
Bruce Toney, inspector general of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said his agency worked with the FBI, Houston Police and the Texas Rangers on the case.
“The allegation is the officers accepted money for not doing their jobs, and that’s against the law,” he said, noting that the investigation began with a tip from the office of state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who heads the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that oversees the state prisons and parole programs. “We are committed to rooting out this type of corruption.”
Brad Livingston, executive director of the criminal justice agency that supervises parolees, said his agency “fully supports efforts to investigate, arrest and ultimately prosecute employees that are suspected of breaking the law.”
In a separate case, juvenile-justice system director Mike Griffiths announced the arrests of three employees at the Evins lockup, including security director Pete Martinez. The other two employees were identified as Juan Tamez and Julian Fuentes, both correctional officers.
The Evins lockup has been plagued by gang violence and assaults by youths on staff and other youths for nearly two years.
Griffiths said Tamez and Fuentes, both alleged to have used excessive force on teen-aged lawbreakers incarcerated at the lockup, face official oppression charges, and Martinez is accused of falsifying records concerning the abuse.
He said that three youths who were identified as victims did not suffer serious injuries.