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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
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Federal prison warden gets six years for sexual abuse of inmates

After maintaining his innocence after his arrest and throughout his trial, Ray Garcia finally admitted his guilt at sentencing Wednesday.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal prison warden with more than three decades’ professional experience will spend nearly six years in prison for sexually abusing inmates in his care and for lying to the FBI to cover up his tracks.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers sentenced Ray Garcia on Wednesday to five years and 10 months behind bars after a jury found him guilty in February on seven counts of sexual abuse and one count of lying to the FBI after two days of deliberations. Prosecutors had asked for a 15-year sentence, 10 more than sentencing guidelines recommend.

“The evidence in this case paints a disturbing picture of a former warden who abused the trust placed in him, as well as authority granted to him, all while thinking he could get away with his crimes by lying to investigators and intimidating his victims,” said U.S. Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey for the Northern District of California in a statement. “Today’s sentence demonstrates that prison walls present no impediment to justice. The Department of Justice will hold accountable any prison official who violates their duty to protect those in federal custody.”

During his trial, three witnesses testified against him for more than a week and he took the stand in his defense to address each of the charges against him. He is among five workers at the all-female Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin, east of San Francisco, charged with abusing inmates, including groping them and having them strip naked so he could photograph them, as well as lying to federal agents. 

The Merced, California, resident maintained his innocence throughout the trial as his attorney James Reilly told jurors, “There’s no evidence whatsoever to support the claims that these things happened” and said the incarcerated women who had accused him had cooperated with investigators in hopes of reduced sentences. But the prosecution said Garcia had nearly absolute control over the prisoners and knew how to hide what he’d done. 

On Wednesday, however, Garcia finally admitted his culpability.

“I stand before you a broken man,” he told Rogers. “I couldn’t be more ashamed or sorry.”

The former warden said that he had long been a “highly sexualized” man, and that he had never addressed the matter because his commitments to his job and family had always come first. With that, he apologized, too, for having not taken responsibility for his actions prior to now.

“I didn’t show strength, discipline, or character,” he said. “I’m sorry, beyond sorry, to the women I’ve hurt.”

Rogers said, "You have finally, finally taken responsibility. I hope your victims can move past this." 

Garcia worked about 32 years for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and had been an associate warden at the low-security prison. He became warden before being placed on leave in July 2021.

One inmate accused him of actively deterring his victims from going public. Garcia told her that he was a close friend of the person responsible for investigating allegations against inmates, adding that he himself could not be fired, according to a report from the FBI.

Garcia had an outsize influence as warden over how Dublin handled employee sexual misconduct. He led staff and inmate training on reporting abuse and complying with Prison Rape Elimination Act requirements and had control over staff discipline, including in cases of sexual abuse.

Lawyers for the government said Garcia developed a pattern of grooming women and earning their trust before he became physical with them and instructed them to strip so he could grope and photograph them. Witnesses described his promises to help them, including to transfer them to a lower-security camp or give them time off to see their family, before becoming physical with them and telling them he wanted to touch them.

One witness identified as Maria testified she was afraid to come forward about Garcia abusing her because he was working on her motion for a compassionate release, which he later denied. 

“Maria wanted to get home to her kids. The defendant knew that and he took advantage of her, manipulated her and abused her,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly K. Priedeman said during the trial.

Prosecutors said Garcia also worked to conceal evidence, like downloading an app to hide photos while the FBI was investigating other officers, telling one woman to hide evidence of their relationship and using a burner phone to talk to another who was released, prosecutors said. But the evidence was found and the FBI also found hundreds of pictures of Garcia’s genitals on his work computer.

“Corrections officials are sworn to protect people and preserve civil rights — the extreme opposite of this defendant's heinous actions,” said FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate in a statement. “Garcia assaulted and harmed those in his care and custody, attempted to intimidate them into silence, and then lied in an effort to cover up his crimes. The FBI is grateful to the brave women who came forward to report these vile offenses, and we hope today’s sentence is one more step towards justice and healing.”

Judge Rogers, deciding against remanding him directly into custody because placing him in Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail raised too many accommodation issues, instructed him to surrender to custody on May 19. Where he will serve his sentence has not yet been decided.

Categories / Courts, Criminal, Government, Trials

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