McALLEN — A former correctional officer at the East Hidalgo Detention Center has pleaded guilty to smuggling cocaine to an inmate being held at the private prison facility in La Villa.

Edcouch resident Erasmo Eduardo Loya, 56, pleaded guilty to a “criminal information” charge in federal court Tuesday afternoon, making him the fifth person to plead guilty out of a string of six former employees of the facility who were charged in sequential indictments in 2019.

A seventh former employee was also charged several months later, in March 2020, and has since pleaded guilty, as well.

Loya was among six former employees of the private prison, owned by the GEO Group, who were arrested by federal agents in the fall of 2019. Five of the men and women — including Loya — were indicted for bribery of a public official.

The sixth person, a woman, was indicted for sex abuse of an inmate.

In a November 2019 news release announcing the charges, federal prosecutors alleged that Loya had accepted between $1,000 and $2,000 in bribes in exchange for smuggling food and marijuana into the prison at least five times between November 2016 and June 2019.

However, in a deal Loya reached with prosecutors in court Tuesday, the man agreed to plead guilty to a “criminal information” in exchange for the dismissal of the grand jury indictment against him.

According to the criminal information, Loya admitted to smuggling cocaine to a prisoner between November 2016 and 2019.

While advising Loya of his rights as part of his guilty plea, U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez explained to him the difference between a criminal information and an indictment.

“It’s sort of a review process,” Alvarez said, explaining how the charges in an indictment can only be laid after a grand jury considers testimony and evidence presented by prosecutors and subsequently finds there is sufficient basis for a jury to weigh a case at trial.

“The (criminal) information is different because that information has not gone through that review process,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez further explained that Loya has the right to be charged via an indictment, but can choose to waive that right in favor of being charged via a criminal information charge.

Loya agreed to proceed with the criminal information charges.

“Erasmo Eduardo Loya, contrary to Texas Penal Code (Sec.) 38.11, which prohibits the provision of a controlled substance to an inmate in a correctional facility, provided and attempted to provide a prohibited object, to wit: cocaine, a Schedule II controlled substance, to Erick Alan Torres Davila, an inmate of the East Hidalgo Detention Center…” the criminal information reads, in part.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Greenbaum, Loya obtained the cocaine from Davila’s family members, whom he would meet outside the prison for that purpose.

Alvarez accepted Loya’s guilty plea and set sentencing for Aug. 10. He remains free on bond until sentencing.