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A federal appeals court on Monday affirmed the two-and-a-half year sentence for a 46-year-old former East Hidalgo County Detention Center medical assistant convicted of taking bribes to smuggle marijuana to federal inmates.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Veronica Ortega’s claims that the District Court abused its discretion by sentencing her to prison instead of home confinement were without merit.
Ortega, who was not vaccinated at the time of her sentencing, argued in the appeal that since she is “a medically fragile individual” who is a “brittle diabetic” she should have been sentenced to home confinement.
At the time of Sept. 16, 2021, sentencing, the COVID-19 pandemic was still in full swing and severe.
Federal appellate prosecutors, however, noted in their brief that Ortega chose not to obtain the vaccine, which was then widely available, because she believed it would harm her due to her diabetes.
The attorneys also noted that she did not see a local doctor for her diabetes and instead used medication from Mexico and dieting to treat herself.
Ortega also made these arguments at her sentencing, but the judge ruled that the Bureau of Prisons has adequate medical facilities to treat Ortega’s diabetes and that it also has vaccines available for inmates.
She is one of seven former staffers from the East Hidalgo County Detention Center who were arrested over the course of several months.
Five others also went to prison for taking bribes to smuggle contraband to federal inmates.
They include Erasmo Eduardo Loya, 34, Jayson Gino Catalan, 39, Jhaziel Enrique Loredo, 31, Amber Estrada, 33, and 34-year-old Domino Gonzalez Hernandez.
Catalan and Gonzalez, who both received six months in prison, have since been released.
Loya is serving one-and-a-half years; Loredo is serving two years and four months; and Estrada is serving two years and three months.
The final former staffer is 50-year-old Brenda Fuentes, who was sentenced to one year and one day for sexually abusing an inmate.
She has since been released.