Weslaco attorney admits to bribing immigration detention officials

A Weslaco attorney accused of paying prison officials for detainee lists pleaded guilty to several charges Tuesday.

Roel Alanis, who was indicted in July 2018 on bribery conspiracy charges, appeared before a federal judge Tuesday to plead guilty to two charges, conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery of a public official, records show.

Alanis was accused of soliciting bribes to obtain lists of detainees from immigration detention employees for roughly a year between February 2018 and February 2019, a news release from the Southern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office stated.

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As part of his plea agreement, Alanis admitted he paid immigration detention employees for the lists.

In May 2019, authorities arrested Benito Barrientez, 43, of Lyford, Damian Ortiz, 31, of Weslaco, and Exy Adelaida Gomez, 43, of Los Fresnos.

Alanis, 40, paid Ortiz for the lists and would try to convince the detainees to hire his law firm in their immigration proceedings. Ortiz is accused of obtaining the lists from Barrientez, who paid Gomez for lists from the Port Isabel Detention Center and El Valle Detention Center.

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Barrientez and Ortiz worked at the Willacy County Regional Detention Center, while Gomez worked at the El Valle Detention Center — both located in Raymondville.

Roel Alanis is described as “Person A” in the indictment against the former detention officers. That charging document only specifies exchanges of cash between Jan. 4 and Jan. 31, 2019.

The indictment against the former detention officers, however, alleges that on Jan. 4, 2019 Barrientez called Gomez and asked her for a list of detainees from the El Valle Detention Center to give to Roel Alanis for $300, though the payment was subsequently increased to $500.

Federal prosecutors say Gomez met Barrientez in a parking lot in Harlingen and was paid $500 to provide the documents.

The indictment alleges that Barrientez then gave the list to Ortiz, who delivered it to another person in Weslaco, who paid Ortiz $350.

The indictment against the former detention officers details several more instances throughout January in which federal prosecutors accuse them of selling lists ranging in price from $500 to $1,000.

Barrientez, Ortiz, and Gomez, who pleaded guilty to their respective bribery charges in February 2020, are set for sentencing later this year, records show.

In February, a grand jury handed down an indictment under seal alleging that Cynthia Alanis, Roel Alanis’ sister, lied to federal agents when she was questioned about her brother’s pending case, the document stated.

The indictment states Cynthia Alanis lied to a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement Feb. 21, 2019, when she said she did not receive nor know about any “alien detainee roster lists” given to the Alanis law firm.

Court records allege Roel Alanis instructed his sister Cynthia Alanis and “others” to visit the detainees for the purpose of hiring his law firm as their attorney in immigration proceedings.

Cynthia Alanis, who faces up to five years in prison if convicted, pleaded guilty to her charge in February 2021. She is currently scheduled for sentencing in early May.

Roel Alanis, who faces up to 15 years in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced  Aug. 2. He and his sister both remained free Tuesday on their respective bonds.