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Jury finds ex-prison warden guilty of abusing female inmates

The jury deliberated nearly two days before returning a guilty verdict.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — A federal court jury on Thursday found former federal prison warden Ray J. Garcia guilty on all eight charges of sexually abusing female inmates and lying to the FBI about it.

During the trial of Garcia, 55, of Merced, California, three witnesses testified against him for more than a week while 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, and faced eight charges of sexually abusing more than one inmate — including groping them and having them strip naked so he could photograph them — as well as lying to federal agents. He had pleaded not guilty.

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. 

Jurors saw evidence like photos found on Garcia's personal computer throughout the trial, including examples of photos Garcia took of an inmate naked in a cell and of his genitals while on duty at the federal prison. Garcia told the jury that the reason he had naked photos of an inmate on all fours in a cell was because he found her there and took photographs to “document her misconduct.” But prosecutors said he never reported the incident and instead kept the photos to himself, cropping them to focus on the woman’s breasts and genitals. 

In their closing arguments this week, 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. 

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, including some taken at the prison.

Garcia’s attorney James Reilly told jurors "there’s no evidence whatsoever to support the claims that these things happened,” and called the incarcerated women criminals who had ulterior motives for accusing Garcia, like earning a sentence reduction for cooperating in the investigation. But the prosecution said Garcia had nearly total control of the women in the prison and knew how to hide what he'd done.

The trial is the latest result from investigations of a string of accusations alleging a culture of abuse and cover-ups at the prison, partly revealed in an Associated Press report this past February. The news added to the the Bureau of Prisons pile of problems over the past two years, including struggling with a failed response to the pandemic, a series of escapes and deaths and critical staffing shortages that have hampered responses to emergencies. In 2020, there were 422 complaints of staff-on-inmate sexual abuse across the system of 122 prisons and 153,000 inmates.

With the verdict, Garcia returns to court March 8 for sentencing. He faces a maximum statutory sentence of 15 years imprisonment, a three-year term of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. 

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